There’s no doubt that the growth in popularity of electronic cigarettes is causing a stir.
ASH Scotland does not take a simplistic view either “for” or “against” electronic cigarettes. Instead our interest is in developing the conditions that will maximise the potential positive health impacts of e-cigarettes and other new nicotine delivery devices while minimising the risks they may pose.
One risk we are monitoring closely is the potential for young people to be drawn into nicotine addiction – and the commercial imperative for industry (often owned by tobacco companies) to encourage them to do so.
To provide a little insight into how young people feel about e-cigarettes, we carried out a survey of teenagers in Scotland. Our poll of people aged 13-18 is the first survey into the attitudes of teenagers in Scotland to e-cigarettes.
The number of boys and girls who responded to the online survey was roughly equal. Although it was distributed throughout Scotland, most responses (86%) were from young people in the Glasgow and Clyde Valley area, so we can’t assume results can be generalised for all teenagers in Scotland.
The results showed nearly a quarter of 13 and 14-year-olds have ever tried electronic cigarettes and close to half of 15 to 18-year-olds have used the nicotine delivery devices. We asked how many had continued to use them but, unfortunately, we got too few responses to that question to produce an accurate figure.
Overall, 81% said they had heard of e-cigarettes. Among those who used the devices, 78% had previously tried a normal cigarette.
Only 12% of the teenagers thought e-cigarettes are “cool”, while 63% disagreed and 25% were not sure. A total of 57% agreed that young people could be influenced to try e-cigarettes by advertising. And 11% of regular smokers and 45% of non-regular smokers said they wanted to try e-cigs due to ads.
The survey shows awareness of e-cigarettes comes mainly from promotional activity, including display stands and media presence, and seeing them used by other people, including friends, family and strangers in public places.
Most saw them being used in a shopping centre (51%) or a park (50%) but 40% revealed they witnessed them used at school.
Around 60% of the young people who were not regular smokers but had tried e-cigarettes said they wanted to see what they were like. Around a third of both smokers and non-regular smokers used them after seeing a friend with one.
Our survey indicates teenagers are using e-cigarettes in significant numbers and it is particularly worrying that children as young as 13 and 14 are trying them.
The findings underline our call for legislation to outlaw the sale of these devices to anyone under 18 and for tighter controls on their marketing. Especially as a report this month found some retailers in England are ignoring voluntary age-of-sale warnings on e-cigarettes.
There is no doubt that the devices, which come in flavours such as milkshake and bubblegum, are attractive to young people. But many contain nicotine – a highly-addictive substance – and currently there is a lack of regulation of their contents and promotion.
We must keep a close eye on the way they’re advertised. We welcome the fact that the Committee of Advertising Practice is currently considering responses to its consultation on e-cigarette advertising, which included specific proposals designed to offer protection to young people, including prohibiting e-cigarette ads from appealing to under-18s or showing anyone under 25 using an e-cigarette.