Advice for youth organisations on how to respond to electronic cigarettes 2

While media debates on vaping and electronic cigarettes continue to produce more heat than light, ASH Scotland is working with leading youth organisations (Youthlink, Youth Scotland, Young Scot and Fast Forward) and with WLDAS to circulate some simple, practical guidance on how organisations engaging with young people should respond to the growing interest in, and presence of, these devices.

At just two pages long (and available here) our guidance doesn’t get into the fine nuances, technical details and ifs, buts and maybes of an issue where the evidence is still developing. What it sets out to do is identify the key areas of interest in a youth setting and suggest the principles that should inform a response based on supporting young people’s well-being.

The first point is that while we don’t know everything about e-cigarettes and vaping, we do know enough to be getting on with. Organisations working with young people can and should be developing a response.

Electronic cigarettes are neither safe nor harmless – but they are much less harmful than tobacco cigarettes, as well as being less expensive and less addictive. So while we do not welcome general use of e-cigs amongst young people, it is better for anyone using tobacco to move to using an e-cig instead.

On the whole electronic cigarettes reduce harm if young people vape when they would otherwise have smoked tobacco. They are problematic if they result in more young people using nicotine, who then go on to use tobacco. Tobacco remains the prime concern and while the trends in youth smoking remain positive we will continue to monitor this closely.

The legislative environment around e-cigarettes is falling into place, with sales and provision to under-18s prohibited and advertising restrictions underway. So what should be done by schools, youth groups, youth services, colleges, residential settings and the rest?

Go and read our guidance and see.


  1. I am really interested in the science and the relative harm statements. Humans have been smoking for hundreds of years. Up to about 50 years ago it was considered ok:-

    As far as I understand it there has been no long term analysis of e cigarettes (for obvious reasons) To my mind, following the precautionary principle, we should be regulating them as medicinal products to allow their use for those addicted to nicotine where there is a clear case for intervention.

    I laugh when I hear doctors and campaigners saying if tobacco was invented today it would be banned..then hear them supporting e cigs ..that are being sold as cool and edgy to young people the same way alco pops and ipods have been in the last 20 years. It’s like a whole new industry of education and publicity and harm reduction.

    • While there may be no long-term analysis on the relative safety of e-cigarettes, we do have lots of short term data that consistently demonstrates that e-cigarettes are vastly safer than smoking and there is no reason to believe that the long-term impacts can even approach the level of harm from smoking. As opposed to tobacco cigarettes, which are essentially the same as they were 100 years ago, e-cigarettes should be seen as a technology, whose safety can be improved, just like modern cars are vastly safer than the first cars were. Any risk to an individual from using an e-cigarette can be reduced or eliminated by upgrading the technology. Diacetyl harmful? Remove it from the e-liquid. Formaldehyde harmful? Ensure temperatures of the heating coils remain below the threshold at which it forms. By doing so, e-cigarette safety can be further increased from where we are today (95% to 99% safer than smoking). There is literally no part of an e-cigarette that could not be modified or replaced if needed.

      The precautionary principal goes the other way. E-cigarettes are widely available and are used by a large percentage of the population. From Wikipedia: “The precautionary principle states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public, in the absence of scientific consensus (that the action or policy is not harmful), the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking an action that may or may not be a risk.” Therefore, the burden of proof that any policy that will restrict the access, availability or attractiveness of e-cigarettes to smokers is not harmful falls on those making the policy. Growing evidence shows us that restricting access to e-cigarettes causes harm, in that more people smoke than otherwise would have. Based on the precautionary principal, no regulation to date has met this requirement.

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