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ECITA Response to Liverpool University Youth Survey - Released 31st March 2015

ECITA Response to Liverpool University Youth Survey - Released 31st March 2015

31, Mar, 2015

Teenagers accessing vaping products is a concern, but current data do not support the idea that vaping products act as a gateway into nicotine addiction or smoking. ECITA introduced voluntary age restriction to the sector in 2010. We hope that the UK’s mandated age restriction will be brought in quickly, so that retailers will enforce this, and ensure vaping products are not sold to minors. The UK already benefits from having robust rules from the Advertising Standards Authority’s Committee of Advertising Practice, to ensure that e-cigarette marketing is not targeted at children.

The Liverpool survey’s ‘ever used an e-cigarette’ is a poor measure, in that it captures large numbers of kids experimenting as a ‘one-off’, but does not indicate anything that necessarily consolidates into ‘current use’, or a behaviour pattern that may cause harm. Indeed, the survey identifies a link with other risk-taking behaviour, which is common in teenagers. There is also no indication as to whether or not the e-cigarettes these teenagers had tried contained nicotine, or had no potentially addictive components at all. 

It is quite possible that many of the teenagers surveyed would otherwise have smoked, in the absence of e-cigarettes, so e-cigarettes may actually be diverting the onset of smoking. Professor Linda Bauld points out: “Other surveys have so far found that progressing from ever trying an e-cigarette to regular use amongst non-smoking children is very rare or entirely absent, suggesting that, to date, e-cigarettes are not responsible for creating a ‘new generation’ of nicotine addicts, despite what some commentators have claimed.”

Various commentators have described vaping as “a new drug use option” and part of “at-risk teenagers’ substance using repertoires”. This is unnecessarily alarmist scaremongering, given that all the data demonstrate that regular use among never smokers is negligible, particularly in the context of the overwhelming evidence supporting the likelihood that vaping has a very low level of harm associated with it. As Professor Robert West explained: “The data to date show that lots of young people are trying e-cigarettes, mostly smokers, but that almost no non-smokers continue to use them.”

The Faculty of Public Health has suggested that the Liverpool survey is evidence of a gateway to smoking. However, it is far more likely that it is an exit from smoking, rather than an entry point to it.

As Professor Lynn Kozlowski pointed out: “If you show more concern about vaping than smoking, or if you downplay the deadly risks of smoking, you encourage young people to switch to [tobacco] cigarettes.”


Further recommended reading; Clive Bates Counterfactual blog - Alarmist survey on teenage vaping misses the point – reaction