E-CIGARETTES may be prompting UK teens to start smoking cigarettes, and to escalate tobacco consumption according to the first UK study to report this trend whose results have been published online in the journal Tobacco Control.
Rates of e-cigarette-use among teens are low, but the proportion of those who have tried them at least once are reasonably high, at 13-22 per cent, and the trend is creeping upwards. However, studies suggesting that experimentation with e-cigarettes may act as a gateway to smoking in adolescents have been carried out in the US.
The researchers therefore wanted to see if there were any similarities between patterns in the UK, as well as to explore several potential risk factors and influences that have not been looked at before.
They used data from 2386 teenagers from 20 schools across England in 2014 when respondents were aged 13 and 14, and again a year later.
Three years ago, the teens were asked about their vaping and smoking behaviours—how much and how often. And they were asked whether any of their friends or family smoked and what their attitude to smoking was – factors associated with smoking uptake among the young.
A year later they were asked whether they smoked cigarettes, and if so, how many; and their breath carbon monoxide levels were re-assessed.
In 2014, nearly two thirds (61.5 per cent, 1726) of the sample had neither tried vaping nor smoking – 16 per cent said they had only tried e-cigarettes, 4.4 per cent had tried the real thing, but not e-cigarettes and nearly one in five (18.1 per cent) had tried both.
Starting to smoke over the next 12 months was significantly more common among those who had friends and two or three family members who smoked. And it was significantly less likely among those with negative attitudes towards smoking.
But it was strongly associated with e-cigarette use, particularly among those without friends who smoked – a group usually thought to be less vulnerable to taking up smoking.