A study unveiled today has found no evidence that electronic cigarettes encourage children to take up smoking tobacco.
Over 4,000 11-18 year olds were surveyed in 2013 and 2014 about their attitudes to smoking and electronic cigarette use.
The study, revealed for the first time at the Public Health England conference in Coventry found that experimenting with electronic cigarettes is “closely linked” to current smoking habits.
Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) compiled the data, which was analysed by Public Health England.
They found that children and young people who were current smokers were more likely to have experimented with e-cigarettes than those who had never smoked. Most regular or occasional e-cigarette users (90%) were already smokers or ex-smokers.
Most young people (91%) have never tried an electronic cigarette and 2% of children who have not tried tobacco have ever tried an e-cigarette.
There were no children recorded in the study who were regular users of e-cigarettes but had never smoked tobacco.
In 2013 94% of young people said they had no intention to smoke or ‘vape’ [use electronic cigarettes]. In 2014 there was a slight decline to 90%.
Only 1% of young people said they thought they might use electronic cigarettes in the future and the rest were unsure.
Speaking exclusively to Nursing in Practice, ASH director of policy Hazel Cheeseman said: “One of the current - legitimate - anxieties is that young people will use electronic cigarettes as a route into nicotine and go on to using tobacco, which we know kills one in two long-term users. There are concerns that the widespread use of electronic cigarettes might influence youth behaviour and lead them towards smoking.
“But this study should reassure the public that we don’t have the evidence for that at the moment. The use in young people is very low - there’s a growing level of experimentation but it doesn’t seem to be translating into large numbers of people using them. We’re just not seeing kids who have never smoked taking up electronic cigarettes.”
In 2014 just 30 young people said they use electronic cigarettes regularly. The study also found a change in the number of current smokers between 2013 and 2014.
Cheeseman said: “Now, if we do start to see young people who have never smoked taking up electronic cigarettes and then moving onto tobacco, we don’t know if they’re ones who would have started smoking anyway. We’d have to go back to national smoking prevalence and if [the numbers of smokers] are still going down then we don’t have anything to worry about.”
Close to a quarter of current smokers thought that e-cigarettes were more harmful, or just as harmful as tobacco cigarettes in 2014, an increase from the previous year.
But the latest evidence shows that electronic cigarettes are less harmful than conventional tobacco.
Cheeseman said: “There has been a big public debate about electronic cigarettes over the past year, and it’s interesting that our young people are getting messages about relative harm that might not be quite accurate.”
“What we need to do is keep looking at smoking prevalence. Smoking prevalence among our young people continues to decline - it’s at about 3-4% right now. But it’s something we need to keep looking at.”
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