Sales of e-cigarettes have rocketed by 340 per cent over the past year as people opt to “start smoking” using the devices rather than tobacco, new figures have revealed.
A report found that the e-cigarette market was estimated to be worth £193 million in 2013 – up from £44m in the previous 12 months.
Meanwhile, sales of traditional smoking cessation aids such as a patch, gum or tablet, have slowed.
The report, from Mintel, found that people are now using the product as both a method of weaning themselves off tobacco – but also as an alternative to cigarettes.
In January, the Westminster government banned the sale of e-cigarettes to under-18s in a bid to prevent youngsters from taking up the habit. However, there is no similar legislation north of the Border.
E-cigarettes supply nicotine through inhaled water vapour and are widely believed to be safer than tobacco products, although the long-term effects are not yet known.
“The rise in popularity of e-cigarettes has hampered growth in the value of the smoking cessation market, which saw modest growth in 2013,” said Roshida Khanom, senior personal care analyst at Mintel.
“Although e-cigarettes are largely marketed as an alternative to smoking, smokers have been using them to cut down or quit smoking.”
But with the growing popularity of e-cigarettes, there is concern that young people may take up ‘vaping’ as a less harmful alternative to smoking.
Ms Khanom added: “These findings suggest that young people may take up e-cigarettes instead of tobacco, and supports the government decision to make it illegal to sell these products to under-18s.”
Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games is the latest event to have banned the use of e-cigarettes. Experts worry that the habit could normalise smoking – and have potential health consequences for the user.
“This research underlines the growth in popularity of electronic cigarettes,” said Sheila Duffy, chief executive of health charity Ash Scotland, which has called for an under-18 age restriction on the sale of e-cigarettes in Scotland.
“We have real concerns about smokers who might have quit ending up using both products long-term, which is not as safe as you might think.
Even very low levels of smoking have high health risks. It’s also important that their promotion [of e-cigarettes] is properly regulated so that it does not mirror cigarette advertising of old and normalise or glamorise tobacco use by association.”
The report found that a greater proportion of smokers and ex-smokers agree that e-cigarettes are a good way to cut down rather than quit smoking.
More than three in ten people say that there is a lack of information on the long-term effects of using e-cigarettes, however, only one fifth of those interviewed agree that they will only be considered safe once they have NHS approval.
New European Union legislation, endorsed by MEPs earlier this week, ruled that e-cigarettes should be regulated, either as medicinal products if they claim to help smokers to quit, or as tobacco products.