For many individuals who are unable or unwilling to leave smoking behind altogether, it is without doubt that e-cigarettes provide a healthier alternative to tobacco. However, at Fast Forward we have previously raised concern that some e-cigarettes are clearly marketed towards young people and may be ‘re-normalising’ smoking, reversing the progress made in bringing smoking rates down in the UK. In addition we are concerned that experimentation of e-cigarettes is rising among young people , if not the regular use of e-cigarettes.
E-cigarettes and young people in Scotland
A recent study which interviewed 182 13-to-16 year-old students from seven schools across Fife, Scotland has claimed that there appears to be a link between high school students smoking e-cigarettes and moving on to tobacco.
The study said: “In one school, it was suggested that up to 30 students used e-cigarettes and some then went on to use cigarettes.”
Pupils from the school told researchers: “I think that’s why most people go on from e-cigarettes to actual cigarettes, just to see what it’s like, the actual ones, and then they get addicted to it.” Another added that e-cigarette users “might not feel like they’re getting anything from the e-cigs, like a kick from it, they might get a better kick from a fag”.
The research also found that most high school students find the fruity, sweet-like flavourings of e-cigarette liquids attractive.
E-cigarettes and young people in America
Another recent piece of research, this time from the US, suggests that young people who use e-cigarettes are at risk of progressing on to smoking tobacco. The longitudinal study looked at 694 participants aged 16-26 who were non-tobacco smokers, surveying from 2012 – 2014 to monitor any changes in smoking behaviour. Sixteen of these individuals were regular e-cigarette users at the beginning of the study.
By the end of the study, 11 of the original 16 e-cigarette users had become tobacco smokers. Says Newsweek magazine,
“While these numbers may seem statistically insignificant, the authors note that the findings should be considered along with other data that suggests more teens are using e-cigarettes. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of middle school and high school students using e-cigarettes tripled between 2013 and 2014.”
Links between e-cigarettes and smoking
A larger study of 3,300 young people in the US looked at 14 year olds at different periods over a year. What it showed was that those who said they’d tried an e-cigarette at the start of the study were also more likely to have tried smoking six months later (30.7 percent vs 8.1 per cent) and 12 months later (25.2 percent vs 9.3 percent). While the authors are careful to stress that the numbers don’t prove that e-cigarettes cause young people to take up smoking, they do show that there is a statistical link between the two.
So while it may be true that e-cigarettes are a viable health alternative to smoking tobacco, the existing research shows there is a need for further longitudinal studies around e-cigarettes and young people. As a nation the UK has come too far in tackling its own tobacco problem to fall short at the endgame.