Rise in children vaping across Britain ‘influenced by social media’

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According to a new report, the proportion of children vaping is on the rise, with many influenced by social media sites such as TikTok.

The study, shared exclusively with the PA news agency, shows that new disposable e-cigarettes are growing in popularity. They cost around £5 each and come in a wide range of fruity flavours.

Data from the Children’s Survey, carried out for Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and partially funded by the Department of Health, shows that many young people are attracted to the devices, which appear on social media sites such than TikTok and Instagram.

Some 52% of young people who have vaped said disposable e-cigarettes were their favorite product – a dramatic increase from the 7% who said the same in 2020.

Over the past year, a new generation of disposable vapes called “puff bars” – which contain nicotine – have hit the market.

The most popular brands are Elf Bar and Geek Bar, according to the report, with only 32% of young vapers saying they use a different brand.

Although it’s illegal to sell vapes to those under 18, social media posts feature teens showing off the new vapes and discussing flavors, including pink lemonade, strawberry, banana and lemonade. mango.

Some 2,613 children across Britain took part in the survey, conducted by YouGov in March, which informed the ASH report.

The overall results showed that while “regular e-cigarette use has increased significantly”, most (84%) of 11- to 17-year-olds have never tried e-cigarettes, and the vast majority of current vapers are smokers or former smokers. .

Data showed that the proportion of children aged 11-17 who currently vape rose from 4% in 2020 to 7% in 2022.

The percentage of those who have ever tried vaping has also increased, from 14% in 2020 to 16% in 2022.

In 2013, only 3% of children aged 11-15 had ever vaped, but this figure rose to 8% in 2020 and 10% in 2022.

For 16 and 17 year olds, the figures have risen from 7% in 2013 to 29% in 2022. For 18 year olds, it has risen from 9% to 41%.

Overall, 4% of 11-15 year olds currently vape versus 14% for 16-17 year olds.

When it comes to regular smoking, fewer young people aged 11-17 smoked – from 16% in 2020 to 14% in 2022.

For the first time this year, the survey asked young people about awareness of the promotion of electronic cigarettes.

More than half (56%) of 11-17 year olds were aware of the e-cigarette promotion, with awareness highest among those who had ever vaped (72%).

TikTok was mentioned most often as a source of online promotion (cited by 45% of children), followed by Instagram (31%) and Snapchat (22%).

Underage vapers were most likely to get their vapes from stores (47%), while 10% buy them online and 43% receive them. Fruit flavors remain the most popular type (57%), according to the survey.

When it comes to why young people go vaping, “just to try” remains the most common reason given by non-smokers for using an e-cigarette (65%).

Among those who smoke, the most common reason is “because I like the flavors” (21%) followed by “I like the experience” (18%) then “Just to try” (15%).

About one in 10 vapers use e-cigarettes to try to quit smoking.

Deborah Arnott, Managing Director of ASH, said, “The disposable vapes that have grown in popularity over the past year are pocket-sized products with bright colors, sweet flavors and sweet names.

“They’re widely available for less than a fiver – no wonder they’re appealing to kids.”

She said more funds were needed to enforce the law against sales to minors and action needed to be taken on child-friendly packaging and labeling and social media promotion.

“Online platforms don’t need to wait, they need to act now,” she said.

“The flood of glamorous promotion of vaping on social media, especially TikTok, is totally inappropriate and they should turn off the tap.”

Ann McNeill, professor of tobacco addiction at King’s College London and author of an upcoming e-cigarette evidence review for government, said: “The rise in vaping is concerning and we need to understand what is behind it. this, such as packaging, accessibility, taste or addiction.

“Our response needs to be proportionate given that smoking poses a much greater health risk to young people and good evidence that e-cigarettes can be an effective quit smoking aid.

“The government should ensure that existing laws are enforced and identify areas where regulations could be extended.

“However, this needs to be done alongside a much faster decline in the number of young people starting to smoke and helping more smokers to quit.”

The report says that among 11-17 year olds who have tried vaping, a greater proportion have never smoked (40%) than smoked (36%) in 2022 for the first time.

Some 40% have never smoked a real cigarette but have tried an e-cigarette, up from 30% in 2020.

Gillian Golden, chief executive of the Independent British Vape Trade Association (IBVTA), said: “Social media platforms are supposed to have policies to prevent the promotion of vapes to children, but they don’t do much to enforce them.

“We monitor and report breaches to social media platforms, but they rarely take action, with TikTok being the worst offender.

“Companies that illegally sell products to under-18s are also more likely to break the law by selling products that do not comply with UK regulations.

“Most retailers and importers don’t sell to children and want stricter enforcement to ensure others don’t either.”

A TikTok spokesperson said, “At TikTok, nothing is more important than keeping our community safe, especially our youngest users.

“Regardless of the age of the user, we strictly prohibit any content that depicts or promotes the sale, trade or supply of tobacco, including vaping products, and we will remove any content that violates the guidelines of our community.

“We also do not recommend content that shows or promotes tobacco products in TikTok user feeds.”

Instagram declined to comment.

Earlier this year, the Chartered Trading Standards Institute made 442 test purchases from stores, resulting in 145 illegal sales to under-18s.

John Herriman, chief executive of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, said more money was needed, but added: “Trading Standards teams are doing their best to protect young people from underage sales of vapes and tobacco. .”

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