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expert reaction to survey on e-cigarette use among young people in the UK

The effects of e-cigarettes in terms of helping people quit smoking and (positive or negative) health impacts are the focus of strong debate, and a paper in the journal Public Health has published the results of a survey of 11-18 year olds in Great Britain. The article reports that the proportion of young people who have tried e-cigarettes rose between 2013-14 (though was rare in people who have never smoked), as did the proportion who thought that e-cigarettes are as harmful as conventional cigarettes.


Prof. Linda Bauld, Professor of Health Policy, University of Stirling, and Chair in Behavioural Research for Cancer Prevention, said:

“Findings from this survey confirm what has been found in previous research – that more young people in Great Britain are aware of e-cigarettes and that experimentation with these products is becoming more common. However, the study found that in both 2013 and 2014 regular use (monthly or more) was confined almost entirely to young people who had already smoked.

“The study involves two repeat cross-sectional surveys so can’t tell us anything about how young people’s  behaviour may change over time (whether the 1.7% of youth who had never smoked in the 2014 survey but had tried an e-cigarette then later become smokers, for example) but it does provide a useful snapshot of the current situation at a time when, overall, tobacco smoking rates continue to fall.

“What is novel about these surveys were the questions included on perceptions of harm of e-cigarettes compared with tobacco. There is a great deal of confusion in the press and amongst the public about these products, despite the fact that organisations like NICE and the MHRA have clearly stated that they are safer than smoking. This confusion may have contributed to a rising perception in young people (a view which almost doubled between 2013 and 2014) that e-cigarettes can cause the same level of harm to the user as tobacco.  This is concerning as it may contribute to some young people continuing to use a deadly product – the cigarette – rather than try less harmful alternatives. ”


Electronic cigarette use in young people in Great Britain 2013- 2014’ by Eastwood et al. will be published in Public Health at 00:01 UK time on Monday 17th August, which is also when the embargo will lift. 


All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:


The SMC produced a Factsheet on e-cigarettes which available here:  


Declared interests

Prof. Linda Bauld chaired the programme development group on tobacco harm reduction that was responsible for producing guidance on harm reduction for the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in 2013.

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