There is no evidence that experimentation with e-cigarettes leads to teenagers taking up smoking tobacco, experts have said.
Rising popularity of the devices has led to heated debate in health circles, with some claiming that vaping is a one-way street to taking up smoking.
But new analysis has concluded that most e-cigarette experimentation among young people does not lead to regular use.
And levels of regular e-cigarette use in young people who have never smoked remain very low, according to the study – a collaboration between the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, Public Health England, Action on Smoking and Health, and the Centre for the Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvement at the University of Cardiff.
Researchers examined data from five large-scale surveys conducted between 2015 and 2017 involving more than 60,000 11 to 16-year-olds across the UK.
Regular – at least weekly – use of e-cigarettes amongst all young people surveyed was 3% or less, they found.
The authors said this use was “highly concentrated” in those who also smoked tobacco.
Among young people who have never smoked, regular use of e-cigarettes was between 0.1% and 0.5% across the five surveys, they said.
“Recent studies have generated alarming headlines that e-cigarettes are leading to smoking. 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-cig experimentation is simply not translating into regular use,” said Linda Bauld, professor of health policy at the University of Stirling – which is a member of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies.
“Our study also shows that smoking rates in young people are continuing to decline. Future studies on this subject need to continue to monitor both experimentation and regular use of e-cigarettes and take into account trends in tobacco use if we are to provide the public with accurate information.”
Martin Dockrell, tobacco policy manager at Public Health England, said: “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 smoking in any numbers, indeed smoking rates in young people are continuing to decline.”