Latest data finds no evidence that electronic cigarettes are a gateway to smoking for young people

Monday 17 August 2015

New research from the ASH Smokefree GB Youth Survey published today in the journal Public Health and backed by further data from the 2015 wave, finds no evidence that young people are being recruited to smoking through their use of electronic cigarettes. [1] [2] 

Experimentation increased over three years with 4% of 11-18 year olds saying they tried electronic cigarettes ‘once or twice’ in 2013 rising to 10% in 2015. However, regular use of electronic cigarettes remained rare across all three years with 2.4% of young people saying they use electronic cigarettes at least once a month in 2015. Almost all of those reporting regular use were young people who had been or were currently smokers.

This occurred during a time when awareness of electronic cigarettes has increased significantly. Only 7% of 11-18 year olds were unaware of electronic cigarettes in 2015 compared with a third of young people in 2013.

The ASH study complements the most recent Government statistics which show that the decline in the number of young people smoking has continued. In 2014, regular smoking among 11-15 year olds was at an all-time low of 3% [3]. This indicates that an increase in awareness and use of electronic cigarettes is not coinciding with any increase in teen smokers.

The authors were concerned, however, about the increase in false perceptions about electronic cigarettes. Although most young people correctly believe that electronic cigarettes are less harmful that smoking tobacco, between 2013 and 2015 the proportion believing that the electronic devices are as equally as harmful increased from 11% to 21%.

In 2015 the survey also asked for the first time about the flavours young people were using. Young people who smoked were more likely to have tried tobacco flavours while fruit flavours were most popular overall.

Hazel Cheeseman, Director of Policy at ASH commented:

“These results should reassure the public that electronic cigarettes are not linked with any rise in young people smoking. Although more young people are trying electronic cigarettes and many more young people are aware of them, this has not led to widespread regular use or an increase in smoking.”

Prof Kevin Fenton, National Director for Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England said:

“This survey provides further confirmation that regular use of electronic cigarettes is still low and largely confined to young people who are already smokers. The new law prohibiting the sale of electronic cigarettes to young people under the age of 18 - which is due to take effect on 1 October – will further reduce teenagers’ access to these products and will reinforce the message that they are intended for adult smokers who want to cut down or stop smoking.”


ENDS

Notes and Links:

[1] Electronic cigarette use in young people in Great Britain 2013-14. Public Health. 2015 

  • B. Eastwood Public Health England, London, United Kingdom, Addictions Department, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neurosciences, King's College London, United Kingdom
  • M. Dockrell, Public Health England, London, United Kingdom
  • D. Arnott, Action on Smoking and Health, United Kingdom
  • J. Britton, Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom, UK Centre for Tobacco & Alcohol Studies, United Kingdom
  • H. Cheeseman, Action on Smoking and Health, United Kingdom
  • M.J. Jarvis, Department of Epidemiology & Public Health, University College London, United Kingdom
  • McNeill, Addictions Department, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neurosciences, King's College London, United Kingdom, UK Centre for Tobacco & Alcohol Studies, United Kingdom

The study of 11-18 year olds in 2013 and 2014 was commissioned by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), conducted by YouGov and analysed by Public Health England and academics from the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies.

[2] See ASH fact sheet: Use of electronic cigarettes among children in Great Britain for the 2015 data.

The 2015 survey was undertaken by YouGov between 6th and 22nd March 2015. Total sample size was 2,291 teenagers aged 11-18. The figures have been weighted and are representative of GB 11-18 year olds.

The 2013 survey was undertaken by YouGov between 21st and 28th March 2013. Total sample size was 2,178 children aged 11-18. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB aged 11-18.

[3] Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England in 2014. HSCIC, 2015