New research released today shows no evidence that e-cigarettes are a ‘gateway’ for young people to start smoking. The annual survey, by tobacco control campaign group, ASH Wales Cymru, questioned more than 830, 11 to 18 year olds across Wales.
It has been a concern among health professionals since the rapid emergence of e-cigarettes that they would ‘renormalise’ smoking and act as a ‘gateway’ towards tobacco for young people.
Of the young people who reported using both e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes at some point, 90% had used tobacco first, suggesting the absence of any ‘gateway’ theory. The report confirms e-cigarette use is confined to current smokers or ex-smokers and they are rarely used among ‘never’ smokers.
It also showed more than 30% of the e-cigarette users had quit smoking altogether. Reasons for using e-cigarettes varied from taste, to friends using them, to wanting to know what they were like.
Young people from the poorest parts of Wales were 25% more likely to have used an e-cigarette compared to their counterparts in the least deprived areas of the country.
These statistics around use by young people match recent results around adult usage from the Welsh Health Survey 2015.
This was the first time the Welsh Health Survey had looked at e-cigarette use. It revealed that 6% of over 16’s stated they currently use an e-cigarette – 140,000 of the Welsh population. Use among never smokers was negligible at 0.06%.
Suzanne Cass, Chief Executive of ASH Wales:
“For the third year in a row our research confirms young people are not using e-cigarettes if they’ve never smoked before.”
“E-cigarettes can contain highly addictive nicotine and there is no need for young non-smokers to use the devices. We are pleased to see these latest results confirm that e-cigarettes are being used as a smoking cessation device, similar to nicotine patches or gum and at the moment are not acting as a gateway towards tobacco. E-cigarette users are now reducing the harm to their bodies caused by poisonous and cancer-causing tobacco smoke.”
Professor Linda Bauld from the University of Stirling and UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies:
“There is a lot of confusion about the relationship between e-cigarettes and smoking in young people. Surveys from other countries do keep claiming there is a link despite youth smoking rates continuing to fall in the countries where these studies take place. This new data from Wales should reassure people that although young people are experimenting with e-cigarettes, we are not seeing regular use in never smokers. Meanwhile, youth smoking rates in Wales continue to decline, which is key to preventing cancer and other diseases that smoking causes.”
Ruth Coombs, Head of British Heart Foundation (BHF) Cymru:
“We are pleased that latest ASH Wales Cymru findings highlight encouraging trends to show that young people in Wales are not turning to e-cigarettes as a way to start smoking but rather as a way to reduce harm caused by intake of tobacco by cigarettes.”
- In terms of awareness of e-cigarettes, a large majority of respondents (90.7%) were aware of e-cigarettes. When stratified by age and gender the awareness of e-cigarettes remained extremely high. As many as 88.5% of respondents under the age of 13 were aware of what an e-cigarette is.
- The most common sources of finding out about e-cigarettes were: seeing strangers using them in public (45.9%), reading or hearing about them on the internet or social media (42.6%), being told about them by friends (42.5%), and seeing them or hearing about them in the media (42.5%). By contrast only a very small proportion of respondents found out about e-cigarettes from a youth worker (3.3%) or health professional (3.0%).
- The majority of respondents (68.6%) have never used an e-cigarette, with 13.7% only using an e-cigarette once and just 10% currently using an e-cigarette. A higher percentage of males reported currently using e-cigarettes every day (6.8%) relative to females (2.2%).
- Respondents from the most deprived parts of Wales were far less likely to have never used an e-cigarette (48.6%) relative to respondents located in the least deprived areas of the country (75.4%).
- The vast majority of never smokers have also never used an e-cigarette (88.9%), with a further 8.2% only ever having tried an e-cigarette once. Just 0.6% of never smokers currently use e-cigarettes regularly (i.e. more than once a week).
- The main reasons for using e-cigarettes for the first time were to see what they tasted like (48.7%), because friends were using them (40.1%), and for a bit of fun (30.7%). 22.1% of respondents cited using e-cigarettes to reduce their intake of tobacco cigarettes.
- The vast majority of respondents (90.3%) who had used e-cigarettes and smoked tobacco cigarettes reported starting to smoke tobacco cigarettes first.
- Of the respondents who had used e-cigarettes and smoked tobacco cigarettes at some point (n = 172) 25.0% smoked fewer tobacco cigarettes since starting to use e-cigarettes, with 34.3% of respondents ceasing to smoke tobacco cigarettes altogether.