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Growth in e-cigarette use hasn’t led young people to think smoking is ‘normal’


Study of young people’s opinions and behaviours finds no resurgence in smoking

Young people’s views about smoking have continued to become more negative since the introduction of e-cigarettes, an NIHR funded study has found.

The analysis, today published in Tobacco Control, was led by Cardiff University and focused on three national surveys containing the views of 248,324 young people aged between 13 and 15. Participants were from Wales, England and Scotland. 

The percentage of young people who reported that trying a cigarette was “OK” declined from 70% in 1999 to 27% in 2015, with the rate dropping faster from 2011 onwards. The percentage of young people reporting having tried smoking continued to fall.

Between 2011 and 2015, there was a surge in the number of people trying e-cigarettes, at a time when there was little regulation around their use.

Experts say the research suggests concerns that e-cigarettes are leading to an increase in young people using tobacco have not materialised.    

The research was funded by the Public Health Research (PHR) Programme and conducted in collaboration with academics from Edinburgh, Stirling, Glasgow and Bristol.  

Dr Graham Moore, based at the Centre for the Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvement (DECIPHer), said: “These findings suggest that fears over a resurgence in youth tobacco smoking because of the rise in e-cigarette use are largely unfounded to date. Negative attitudes towards smoking among young people continued to increase during a period where we saw a rapid rise in the use of e-cigarettes.

“The nature of e-cigarettes, and the landscape in which they are sold and used continue to change rapidly, and we need to continue to keep a close eye on how they affect young people. However, this study demonstrates the success of public health efforts in reducing smoking among young people in the last 20 years and provides no evidence that e-cigarettes are reversing this.”

E-cigarette experimentation is becoming more popular among young people who have not previously used tobacco, although regular use of e-cigarettes by young people remains rare. Smoking rates among teenagers continue to fall.

Professor Martin White, Director of the NIHR’s Public Health Research (PHR) Programme, said: “This study provides an important insight into the attitudes of young people towards smoking at a time when smoking among this age group appears to be falling, despite the growth in e-cigarettes.

“However, cigarette smoking is still a major cause of ill health and death in the UK. This highlights the need for more research in this area to inform the delivery of interventions to prevent the uptake of smoking and stop smoking interventions for young people, to help improve the health of the public and reduce health inequalities.”

For more information on the study visit the NIHR Journals Library.