One in five teenagers has used e-cigarettes, a large-scale study finds. So what makes them so appealing to young people?
Researchers at Liverpool John Moores University surveyed more than 16,000 students aged 14 to 17 in the north west of England, and asked them about their alcohol and tobacco use.
Of the teenagers that had accessed e-cigarettes, 16 per cent had never smoked, 23 per cent had tried smoking but did not like it, 36 per cent were regular smokers, 12 per cent only smoked when drinking, and 13 per cent were ex-smokers.
In the UK, the marketing and sale of e-cigarettes has increased substantially in recent years, with an estimated 1.3 million people using them in 2013. A survey found that two-thirds of 11-18-year-olds had heard of e-cigarettes, and that 5 per cent of those had tried them.
Marc George, 19, e-cigarette user and volunteer youth worker at ASH Wales (Action on Smoking and Health) told Channel 4 News: “E-cigarettes are advertised in different ways to normal cigarettes. For example you can now buy shisha pens, shisha sticks and e-liquids.
“They are sold in different colours, patterns and have different flavours which are appealing for young people. There are also vape shops and e-cigarette stores springing up everywhere.”
The research, which is published in the open access journal BMC Public Health, also found that teenagers who drank alcohol were significantly more likely to have accessed e-cigarettes than non-drinkers.
Compared with non-drinkers, teenagers who drank alcohol at least weekly and engaging in binge drinking were more likely to have used e-cigarettes.
The researchers also said their findings suggest that teenagers who use e-cigarettes are most susceptible to other forms of substance use and risk-taking behaviours.
According to the report, prevalence of e-cigarettes was highest among smokers (rising to 75.8 per cent in those smoking less than five per day), although 15.8 per cent of teenagers that had accessed e-cigarettes had never smoked conventional cigarettes.
Teenagers with a parent or a guardian who smoked were more likely to have accessed e-cigarettes than those with non-smoking parents or guardians.
Among regular smokers, e-cigarette access increased with age and was higher in males and those with parents or guardians who smoked. Prevalence was also higher in smokers who got their cigarettes from parents or from friends or family aged over 18 years.