The landscape of smoking and tobacco use has evolved drastically over the past few years, and with it, vaping has emerged as a popular trend, particularly among young people. Recent data in 2023 has shown that the proportion of children experimenting with vaping has increased significantly, raising alarm bells for parents, healthcare providers, and educators alike. Here's a balanced look at what we know about the vaping industry, its benefits, and its potential downsides, especially when it comes to young people.
Use and Awareness of E-Cigarettes
Recent studies in 2023 have shown that the proportion of children who had tried vaping grew by a significant 50% year on year. While the number of kids who have vaped just once or twice has risen substantially, from 7.7% in 2022 to 11.6% in 2023, the percentage of kids who are currently vaping has seen only a marginal increase from 6.9% to 7.6%. Intriguingly, this rate of vaping surpasses current smoking rates (7.6% compared to 3.6% in 2023).
Age also seems to be a factor. Among 11-15 year-olds, 15% have ever tried vaping. This number jumps to 34% for 16-17 year-olds and 38% for 18 year-olds.
Reasons for Vaping
When it comes to the reasons kids give for vaping, those who have never smoked seem mostly motivated by curiosity, with over half stating they vape "just to give it a try." Among those who have smoked before, 21% vape because they "like the flavours." Interestingly, the belief that vaping is as harmful as or more harmful than smoking doesn't seem to deter kids from trying it.
Main Source and Type of Product Used
The most common source for acquiring vapes is shops (48%), even though selling vapes to minors is illegal in many places, including the UK. Notably, the rise of disposable vape devices seems to be parallel with the rise in youth vaping, with 69% in 2023 saying they most frequently use a disposable device, up from 52% in 2022.
Promotion of Vaping to Children
While it is illegal to sell e-cigarettes to children under 18 in the UK, a worrying 2.1% of children report that their first vape was given to them by an e-cigarette company. Additionally, awareness of e-cigarette promotion has skyrocketed among children. Over half of all children (53%) are now aware of in-shop promotions, and almost a third (32%) have seen promotions online.
The Pros and Cons
Smoking Cessation: Some studies suggest vaping can help adult smokers quit traditional cigarettes.
Less Harmful: Vaping is generally considered less harmful than smoking traditional cigarettes for adults, as it contains fewer toxic substances.
Health Risks: Vaping is not risk-free. It can contain harmful substances like nicotine, which can be addictive and harmful to the developing adolescent brain.
Gateway to Smoking: Research shows that young people who start with e-cigarettes are more likely to transition to traditional cigarettes.
Misinformation: The perception that vaping is completely safe can lead young people to start vaping without considering its long-term effects.
While vaping may offer some benefits over traditional smoking for adults, particularly for those trying to quit, it poses a series of unique challenges and health risks for young people. The rising rates of youth vaping, combined with increased exposure to vaping promotions, suggest a pressing need for regulatory and educational interventions to safeguard the health and well-being of children. Given that many young people incorrectly believe that vaping is as harmful as or less harmful than smoking, there is a clear need for more accurate public health messaging.
Let's not wait for these alarming statistics to worsen. The time for comprehensive strategies to tackle youth vaping is now.