Rise of vaping ‘does not lead to more teenagers smoking cigarettes’

There is scant evidence that e-cigarettes are turning youngsters to tobacco smoking, researchers say Credit: Jonathan Brady/PA

The growth in the use of e-cigarettes has not led to a boom in teenagers taking up tobacco smoking, research suggests.

A new study found there was scant evidence that e-cigarettes had led to young people thinking regular smoking was cool.

The study, published in the journal Tobacco Control, examined data from 248,324 teenagers aged 13 to 15 from England, Wales and Scotland who took part in national surveys from 1998 to 2015.

Experts, led by a team at Cardiff University, said the studies happened at the same time as the “unregulated growth of e-cigarette use” between 2011 and 2015.

The results showed a drop in the proportion saying they had ever smoked regular cigarettes and a decline in those regularly smoking.

This was alongside fewer young people smoking cannabis or drinking alcohol, the study found.

The authors concluded: “These analyses provide little evidence that re-normalisation of youth smoking was occurring during a period of rapid growth and limited regulation of e-cigarettes from 2011 to 2015.”

Overall, the percentage of young people who said trying a cigarette was “OK” fell from 70% in 1999 to 27% in 2015, with the rate dropping faster from 2011 onwards.

The percentage who had ever smoked fell from 60% to 19% between 1998 and 2015, while the proportion of regular smokers fell from 19% to 5%.

Dr Graham Moore, from the Centre for the Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvement, said: “These findings suggest that fears over a resurgence in youth tobacco smoking because of the rise in e-cigarette use are largely unfounded to date.

“Negative attitudes towards smoking among young people continued to increase during a period where we saw a rapid rise in the use of e-cigarettes.

“The nature of e-cigarettes, and the landscape in which they are sold and used continue to change rapidly, and we need to continue to keep a close eye on how they affect young people.

“However, this study demonstrates the success of public health efforts in reducing smoking among young people in the last 20 years and provides no evidence that e-cigarettes are reversing this.”

In February, a report found that the number of children and young people who are trying vaping is on the rise.

While overall use of e-cigarettes among young people remains low, the number who have ever tried it has almost doubled in four years.

This report was led by researchers at King’s College London and commissioned by Public Health England (PHE).

It looked at surveys relating to e-cigarette use among young people, the most recent of which was the Action on Smoking and Health YouGov survey of more than 2,000 children aged 11 to 18 in 2018.

The survey showed that 11.7% of 11 to 18-year-olds in 2018 had tried e-cigarettes once or twice at some point, almost double the 6.5% in 2014.

Awareness of vaping had also risen, while the proportion who said they had never tried e-cigarettes fell from 91.5% in 2014 to 83.4% in 2018.

Some 3.4% of those questioned in 2018 reported using e-cigarettes currently – more than double the 1.6% in 2014.

In 2018, 1.8% reported using them at least once a month but not weekly, and a further 1.7% reported using them at least weekly.

Overall, 1.7% of 11 to 18-year-olds reported at least weekly use of an e-cigarette in 2018.

Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest, said of the latest research published in Tobacco Control: “The study shows there is nothing to fear from the growth of vaping.

“The results support our view that Government should ease restrictions on e-cigarette advertising.”

Rosanna O’Connor, director of drugs, alcohol and tobacco at Public Health England, said: “Increasingly today young people are turning their backs on smoking and very few are regularly using e-cigarettes.

“This study is further evidence that vaping is not leading young people to smoke, but we will keep a careful watch on this to ensure we stay on track to achieve our ambition of a smoke-free generation.

“Meanwhile, e-cigarettes have become the most popular quit aid for adult smokers, which means fewer role models for smoking.”

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health, said the charity did not support lifting restrictions on e-cigarette advertising.

She added: “The current regulations are working, regular vaping by young people remains low, and that’s the way it needs to stay.”