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E-cigarette use by teenagers doesn´t lead to smoking

There is no evidence that experimentation with e-cigarettes leads to teenagers taking up smoking tobacco, a large study has found.

Just three per cent of children aged 11 to 16 regularly vape, and those who do are highly likely to already have smoked tobacco.

Among young people who have never smoked, regular use of e-cigarettes is as low as 0.1 per cent.

Rising popularity of the devices has led to heated debate, with some claiming that vaping is a pathway to taking up smoking.

Research earlier this month warned that teenagers who use electronic cigarettes are four times more likely to go on to smoke tobacco. 

The new study contradicts the argument that vaping is a pathway to taking up smoking for teenagers (file photo)

But the new study – involving more than 60,000 youngsters – completely contradicts these findings.

‘Recent studies have generated alarming headlines that e-cigarettes are leading to smoking.

‘Our analysis of the latest surveys from all parts of the United Kingdom, involving thousands of teenagers shows clearly that for those teens who don’t smoke, e-cigg experimentation is simply not translating into regular use,’ said Linda Bauld, professor of health policy at the University of Stirling, which collaborated in the research.

‘Our study also shows that smoking rates in young people are continuing to decline.’

E-cigarettes contain a liquid form of nicotine that is heated into vapour to be inhaled, said to avoid the harm caused by tobacco smoke.

Around three million adults in Britain have used e-cigarettes in the decade or so that they have been on the market.


E-cigarettes are hailed as a ‘safer’ alternative to traditional cigarettes.

Research last month revealed smokers who also use e-cigarettes are more likely to kick the habit.

Some 65 per cent of vapers attempt to quit smoking versus 40 percent of non-e-cigarette users, according to the largest study of its kind from Queen Mary University.

And e-cigarettes are less addictive as vapers are not as dependent on their habit as traditional smokers, according to research from Penn State College of Medicine in June.

However, research on the health effects have been conflicting.

One report earlier this month found just one puff of an e-cigarette could be all it takes to increase the risk of a heart attack.

After just five minutes of vape exposure, mice’s arteries narrow by 30 percent within an hour, a West Virginia University study suggests.

The official stance from the NHS is that vaping is ‘not risk free, but based on current evidence they carry a fraction of the risk of cigarettes’.

It notes that as well as nicotine, e-cigarette liquid and vapour can contain ‘potentially’ harmful chemicals.

Though these are ‘either at much lower levels than seen in cigarette smoke or at levels not associated with health risk’.

It says: ‘E-cigarettes are still fairly new and we won’t have a full picture on their safety until they have been in use for many years.

‘Public Health England will continue to monitor the evidence as it develops.’


Key findings

Levels of regular e-cigarette use in young people who have never smoked remain very low, according to the study – a collaboration between the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, Public Health England, Action on Smoking and Health, and the University of Cardiff.

Researchers examined data from five large-scale surveys conducted between 2015 and 2017 carried out across the UK. Regular – at least weekly – use of e-cigarettes amongst all young people surveyed was 3 per cent or less, they found. 

The authors said this use was ‘highly concentrated’ in those who also smoked tobacco. Among young people who have never smoked, regular use of e-cigarettes was between 0.1% and 0.5% across the five surveys, they said. 

We are getting the balance right

Health officials the findings proves current Government policy on vaping and smoking is effective.

Martin Dockrell, tobacco policy manager at Public Health England, said: ‘The findings in this study suggest that in terms of protecting children we are broadly getting the balance right in the UK.

‘We have a regulatory system that aims to protect children and young people while ensuring adult smokers have access to safer nicotine products that can help them stop smoking.

‘This includes a minimum age of sale, tight restrictions on marketing, and comprehensive quality and safety requirements. We will continue to monitor the trends in e-cigarette use alongside those in smoking.’

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the campaign group Action on Smoking and Health, said: ‘A small proportion of young people do experiment with e-cigs, but this does not appear to be leading to regular vaping or smoking in any numbers, indeed smoking rates in young people are continuing to decline.’