Health: Rise of e-cigarettes poses risk to youths

Picture by Yui Mok/PA Wire.
Picture by Yui Mok/PA Wire.
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I was never one of the rebellious kids who snuck behind the art block at high school to smoke a cigarette.

It seemed an unhealthy way of climbing the social ladder at the time, but nowadays you can’t help but think e-cigarettes might present a new way for unruly teens to make a mark.

After all, endless A-list celebrities use them, they look high-tech and there are hundreds of flavours available – the husky, tar-laden cough may be becoming a thing of the past.

E-cigarettes have been the subject of much research, most recently a US study stating their vapour could harm the lungs, but the impact on young people is yet to be fully explored.

Dr Joanne Trigwell, from Leeds Beckett University’s Centre for Health Promotion Research, is conducting a study into the educational needs of 11 to 13-year-olds around e-cigarettes this year.

Her plans for research, set around interviews with Leeds pupils, teachers and health professionals, come after earlier work with 9 and 10-year-old children raised questions.

She said: “It started coming to our attention that younger people were aware this was a product on the market and, working in the area, we were aware that young people were using e-cigarettes – while the proportion was small.”

She said they spoke of being able to get hold of e-cigs from market stalls, adding: “There was also this assumption that they weren’t really cigarettes, so perhaps it was okay – they talked about different coloured ends and flavourings.”

The ease with which under 18s can buy e-cigs, which are not yet subject to legal age restrictions, has been stressed by Public Health England. In 574 test purchases last year, children were successful 40 per cent of the time in buying them.

The Action on Smoking and Health charity is not alone in believing e-cigs “have a role to play” as tools to help smokers quit tobacco but spokeswoman Amanda Sandford said we must remain “vigilant” on advertising. Since November firms have been allowed to advertise their use on TV if they do not promote tobacco, target non-smokers or young people.

“There has been an increase in awareness and young people trying them but again it’s nearly always children that are already smoking or inclined to smoke,” she said. “The usage among children who have never smoked is negligible.”

The use of e-cigs has tripled since 2012 to 2.1million users, surpassing nicotine patches as the most popular support people use to quit smoking.

The advantages of using e-cigs as an aid to stop smoking tobacco are unquestioned, although critics suggest they simply replace one addiction with another less harmful one.

But in an age where youths are taken in by fashion and trends more than ever, caution must be urged.


Electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco but most still contain nicotine.

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) says evidence suggests that they can be effective in helping smokers quit and little evidence that they are used by never smokers.

ASH supports enhanced regulation on the safety of e-cigs and to prevent their promotion to non-smokers.

Using e-cigarettes in some public places such as Leeds criminal courts is prohibited.