The number of British children trying vaping has soared by nearly 50 per cent, new research has revealed, as renewed calls were made for a Scottish ban on disposable e-cigarettes.
Fresh data for Great Britain has shown a rise in experimental vaping among 11 to 17-year-olds, from 7.7 per cent last year to 11.6 per cent this year.
Children were asked if they had ever tried vaping once or twice, with the proportion roughly doubling in nine years, from 5.6 per cent in 2014 to 11.6 per cent this year.
The latest survey of 2,656 youngsters across Great Britain was carried out by YouGov in March and April for Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), an anti-smoking charity.
Sheila Duffy, chief executive of campaign group ASH Scotland, said the figures “shed light on a troubling trend” showing children being “increasingly attracted” to experimenting with e-cigarettes, especially health-harming cheap, brightly coloured and sweet flavoured disposable vaping products.
“Many disposable e-cigarettes include toxic chemicals that have not been safety tested for inhalation and could damage health over time,” she said. “This is particularly worrying for young people as their lungs are still growing.
“Research indicates that young people experimenting with e-cigarettes are at a higher risk of smoking, and that is a prospect we should all want our children to avoid as we look for Scotland to achieve its ambition for the next generation to grow up tobacco-free.
“This important public health concern demands immediate decisive action by the Scottish Government, who should introduce long overdue measures to restrict the availability and visibility of e-cigarettes to protect young people from predatory promotional activities, as well as bring forward a ban of disposable e-cigarettes on protective health and environmental grounds.”
Last week, First Minister Humza Yousaf said the Scottish Government’s expert group was considering a ban on disposable vapes. Speaking at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Mr Yousaf acknowledged the health impacts of vapes as well as the risk to children.
In response to a question from Green MSP Gillian Mackay, who asked whether ministers were considering a ban on health and environmental grounds, he said: “We will give that consideration.
“Littering, of course, of any kind is unacceptable, and I share the member’s concerns about the environmental impacts of single-use vapes, not to mention the increased use among children and young people who should not have access to them in the first place.
“I should make it quite clear that the use of these products is an issue we’re taking very seriously and nothing is off the table at this stage.”
The latest survey showed disposable vapes appear to be the e-cigarette of choice among youngsters, while purchases of vapes are mostly made from corner shops.
It is illegal to sell vapes to under-18s, but social media carries posts from teenagers showing vapes and discussing flavours such as pink lemonade, strawberry, banana and mango.
Experts have warned previously how the new generation of disposable vapes known as “puff bars” – which contain nicotine – have flooded the market. This is borne out by the latest survey, with Elf Bar being the most popular brand of disposable among children who vape, followed by Lost Mary, Elux, Geek Bar and Crystal.
In 2021, current child vapers were least likely to vape disposables (7.7 per cent), but last year they became the most used (52 per cent) and this has continued to grow to 69 per cent in 2023.
The Scottish Government has not yet introduced regulations – enabled by the Health (Tobacco, Nicotine etc. and Care) (Scotland) Act 2016 – to restrict the advertising and promotions of e-cigarettes in Scotland, despite publishing an analysis of responses to its consultation on tightening the rules on advertising and promoting vaping products in September last year.
Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Dr Sandesh Gulhane said: “While it is a less harmful alternative to smoking cigarettes, we need to keep the law on vaping, especially single use vapes under constant review. The Scottish Conservatives will consider any proposals brought forward by the Government carefully.”
Ann McNeill, professor of tobacco addictions at King’s College London, said the data showed too many smoking adults and children believed vaping was more than or equally harmful as smoking.
“These misperceptions are likely to encourage children to believe that they might as well smoke as vape, and discourage adults who smoke ,but have never vaped from taking up the Government’s ‘swap-to-stop’ offer, of taking up vapes instead of cigarettes,” she said. “A well-funded communications campaign is needed to address these growing misperceptions.”