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Fifth of young people have tried e-cigarettes

Overall smoking rates for teenagers at record low

Adrian O'Dowd

Thursday, 23 July 2015

More than a fifth (22%) of schoolchildren aged 11 to 15 have tried electronic cigarettes, but there is little evidence of frequent use, according to a report published today by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).

New figures from Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use Among Young People in England, 2014, showed that overall, smoking rates for young people are at an all-time-low since records began in 1982.

The NatCen Social Research (NatCen) and the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) carried out the survey on behalf of the HSCIC, questioning 6,173 secondary school pupils from 210 schools in England.

Questions on e-cigarettes were asked for the first time in this most recent survey.

Results showed that 22% of 11 to 15 year olds had used e-cigarettes at least once, and the majority (88%) had heard of them.

The vast majority (89%) of regular cigarette smokers in this age group had used e-cigarettes, compared to just 11% who had never smoked.

Fewer than one in five (18%) pupils had ever used cigarettes. This is the lowest level since the survey began in 1982 and continues the decline since 2003, when 42% of pupils had used cigarettes.

Nearly two thirds (64%) of pupils said they had been exposed to second hand smoke either in someone’s home (including their own) or in a car.

The report also shows a fall in the prevalence of alcohol and drug use among young people.

Just over a third (38%) had ever drunk alcohol, the lowest proportion since the survey began.

The decline in the proportion of pupils who had ever taken drugs has been slower in recent years than during the period between 2001 and 2010, when it fell from 29% to 18%. In 2014, 15% of pupils reported they had ever taken drugs.

Paul Niblett, responsible statistician for the survey, said: “It is encouraging to see that the decline in young people smoking or drinking continues and whilst the use of drugs has stabilised, figures are nevertheless at a record low.

“Today’s report also provides information about additional behaviours for the first time. At a time when little is still known about these areas, the insight from today’s survey will be of value to those working with young people, in education and public health.”

Elizabeth Fuller, research director for NatCen Social Research said: “This is the first time we have asked young people about their use of e-cigarettes and we see that young people are more likely to have tried an e-cigarette than a traditional cigarette.

“We can’t be certain why this is so, but there are likely to be a number of reasons, including the novelty element, price, and the fact there are currently no restrictions on children under the age of 18 buying e-cigarettes. Nevertheless, young people who develop a regular smoking habit are still more likely to be smoking tobacco than using e-cigarettes."

Deborah Arnott chief executive of health charity ASH said: “These results are entirely consistent with other British surveys showing that regular use of e-cigarettes among teenagers is tiny and is confined to those who are already regular smokers.

“They do not support the idea that experimentation with e-cigarettes is a gateway into smoking as the number of young people trying smoking continues to decline year on year.”

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