Warnings that e-cigarettes are luring teenagers into smoking tobacco are unfounded, a major Public Health England (PHE) study has found.
Data involving 60,000 11 to 16-year-olds revealed there is no evidence that “vaping” the electronic devices acts as a gateway to the more harmful habit.
Analysis showed that across all the young people surveyed, only three per cent used e-cigarettes at least once a week, and that teenage use was “highly concentrated” in those who already smoked tobacco.
For those teens who don’t smoke, e-cigg experimentation is simply not translating into regular use
Among young people who have never smoked, regular use of e-cigarettes was between 0.1% and 0.5% across the five surveys, the analysis found.
In recent months, opponents of e-cigarettes have pointed to slew of smaller studies, mainly from the US, as evidence that vaping leads to traditional smoking.
But last night experts at PHE said the new study, which analysed five large-scale surveys conducted in the UK between 2015 and 2017, proved current Government policy was “broadly getting the balance right”.
“Our analysis of the latest surveys from all parts of the United Kingdom, involving thousands of teenagers shows clearly that for those teens who don’t smoke, e-cigg experimentation is simply not translating into regular use,” said Linda Bauld, professor of health policy at the University of Stirling, which collaborated in the research.
“Our study also shows that smoking rates in young people are continuing to decline.”
Because vaping has only become relatively widespread in recent years, there is a dearth of robust evidence indicating to what extent, if any, the practice is harmful in itself.
However, some scientists have said that e-cigarette smoking is, at most, five per cent as harmful as traditional smoking, with policy makers favouring e-cigarettes as a means of giving up tobacco.
Martin Dockrell, tobacco policy manager, Public Health England, added: “The findings in this study suggest that in terms of protecting children we are broadly getting the balance right in the UK.
“We have a regulatory system that aims to protect children and young people while ensuring adult smokers have access to safer nicotine products that can help them stop smoking. This includes a minimum age of sale, tight restrictions on marketing, and comprehensive quality and safety requirements. We will continue to monitor the trends in e-cigarette use alongside those in smoking.”
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the campaign group Action on Smoking and Health, said: “A small proportion of young people do experiment with e-cigs, but this does not appear to be leading to regular vaping or smokingin any numbers, indeed smoking rates in young people are continuing to decline.”