Use of e-cigarettes has tripled over the past two years to 2.1 million across the UK.
Figures from health charity Action on Smoking Health (ASH) show that usage has significantly increased from 700,000 in 2012.
Nearly two-thirds of users are smokers and one third are ex-smokers, an increase in the proportion of ex-smokers, compared to previous years.
The survey showed the number of current or ex-smokers who had tried e-cigarettes over the past four years has increased significantly.
In 2010, just over 8% of smokers had tried e-cigarettes. By 2014, more than half (52%) had tried them.
The number of self-reported non-smokers (0.1%) who have tried electronic cigarettes is small.
Just over a third (35%) of British adults believe that electronic cigarettes are good for public health while around a quarter (22%) disagree, the YouGov survey commissioned by ASH showed.
There are a variety of reasons given by current and ex-smokers for why they use or have tried electronic cigarettes. Among current users of electronic cigarettes:
- The main reasons given by ex-smokers are “to help me stop smoking entirely” (71%) and “to help me keep off tobacco” (48%). - The main reason given by current smokers is to “help me reduce the amount of tobacco I smoke, but not stop completely” (48%) followed by “to save money compared with smoking tobacco” (37%); and “to help me stop smoking entirely” (36%).
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of health charity ASH said: “The dramatic rise in use of electronic cigarettes over the past four years suggests that smokers are increasingly turning to these devices to help them cut down or quit smoking. Significantly, usage among non-smokers remains negligible.
"While it is important to control the advertising of electronic cigarettes to make sure children and non-smokers are not being targeted, there is no evidence from our research that e-cigarettes are acting as a gateway into smoking.”
A separate ongoing survey - the Smoking Toolkit Study carried out in England – has also found that smokers are increasingly using electronic cigarettes as an aid to quitting, overtaking use of medicinal nicotine products such as patches and gum.
The proportion of smokers who have quit in the last year has increased and smoking rates in England are continuing to fall.
Commenting on the findings, leader of the study, Professor Robert West, said: “Despite claims that use of electronic cigarettes risks renormalizing smoking, we found no evidence to support this view. On the contrary, electronic cigarettes may be helping to reduce smoking as more people use them as an aid to quitting.”