Is Teen Vaping Really a Problem in the UK?

Is Teen Vaping Really a Problem in the UK?

One of the most common reasons people give to over-regulate the vape industry is the rise of teen vaping.  This is usually followed by a picture of someone too young to use electronic cigarettes and the spectre of a generation of young people who turn to vaping rather than traditional smoking.  So is there really a teen vaping problem around the world?  And what is the position here in the UK?

Smoking versus vaping

To start to see the position, it is good to look at some of the studies being conducts.  For example, the report Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use Among Young People in England looked at students from the age of 11 to 15.  In this, they classed ‘regular’ smoking as once a week or more while ‘occasional’ smoking is less than once a week.

The study showed that regular smoking numbers had declined from 2011 to 2016 while the number of occasional smokers had remained much the same.  The study also found nearly a 30% drop in the number of students who were smokers but stopped and nearly 20% said they had never tried it at all.

Compare that with another study that looked at the rates of vaping since 2013 in the same age group.  This found that as smoking had become less common, there had been an increase in the number of under 18s who had tried vaping.  However, the number who regularly used e-liquid devices was much smaller in terms of the increase.

The US picture

The situation in the US is often used as the case for the ‘teen vaping epidemic’ and the wholesale move to using e-cigarettes.  But does the data support this?

From 2011 to 2014, the US under 18s did see a steep increase in the number of people who tried vaping from around 3% to around 27%.  However, since 2014, this number has fallen down to around 21%.  And the number of teens who occasionally or regular vape has remained steady at just above and below the 5% mark.

At the same time, the number of tobacco smokers has fallen by a massive 59% for regular smokers and 32% for occasional smokers.

Smokers versus never smoked

The final set of figures looked at who vapes – smokers versusnon-smokers.  In the UK, 16% of vapers are former smokers while less than 1% have gone straight to vaping.  In the US, around 40% of vapers are former smokers who have switched to vaping while around 1% are non-smokers who started with vaping.  And compare this to Australia where 7% are former smokers and less than 1% have never smoked.

Teen epidemic?

There’s no doubt that the number of teens trying vaping has increased but this is in line with the availability of products.  But there is little evidence for the kind of teen epidemic that people talk about with under 18s turning to vaping without ever having tried smoking in the first place.  So while it is always a concern when under 18s are using vaping products, it still remains a lower figure than having used drugs – a much bigger concern.

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