The team analysed the opinions of 248,324 Welsh, English and Scottish children aged between 13 and 15. Those reporting that smoking was “OK” fell from 70% (1999) to 27% (2015).
The researchers concluded: “There was a marginal slowing in the decline in regular smoking during the period following 2010, when e-cigarettes were emerging but relatively unregulated. However, these patterns were not unique to tobacco use and the decline in the acceptability of smoking behaviour among youth accelerated during this time. These analyses provide little evidence that renormalisation of youth smoking was occurring during a period of rapid growth and limited regulation of e-cigarettes from 2011 to 2015.”
Dr Graham Moore, deputy director for DECIPHer, said: “These findings suggest that fears over a resurgence in youth tobacco smoking because of the rise in e-cigarette use are largely unfounded to date. Negative attitudes towards smoking among young people continued to increase during a period where we saw a rapid rise in the use of e-cigarettes.”
“The nature of e-cigarettes, and the landscape in which they are sold and used continue to change rapidly, and we need to continue to keep a close eye on how they affect young people. However, this study demonstrates the success of public health efforts in reducing smoking among young people in the last 20 years and provides no evidence that e-cigarettes are reversing this.”
Prof John Britton, Director of the UK Centre for Tobacco & Alcohol Studies, University of Nottingham, said: “This comprehensive analysis of data from young people in the UK confirms what is evident from simple inspection: that using ecigarettes does not, to any appreciable extent, cause young people to become tobacco smokers. It is vital that these trends continue to be monitored so that any adverse effect is detected early, but these findings provide further endorsement for health policies that promote the use of e-cigarettes as a substitute for tobacco smoking.”
“Although it is always difficult to infer cause and effect from observational studies, these findings strongly suggest that e-cigarettes do not cause teens to take up smoking,” Britton continued.
“We now know, therefore, that e-cigarettes do not renormalize smoking; do not cause young people to start smoking; and have helped thousands of smokers to quit. We should continue to pursue an active tobacco harm reduction policy in the UK.”
Professor Linda Bauld was part of the research team; she added: “Teenagers across Great Britain were trying e-cigarettes during the period when they were unregulated, and recent data suggests that these trends have continued up to the present day. But the findings of this study show that youth tobacco smoking has nevertheless continued to decline. Clearly longer-term data is required to fully assess the effects of e-cigarette use in young people. The next stages of this study and other on-going research will provide us with more information in the future.”
- “Have e-cigarettes renormalised or displaced youth smoking? Results of a segmented regression analysis of repeated cross sectional survey data in England, Scotland and Wales” by Hallingberg, Maynard, Bauld, Brown, Gray, Lowthian, MacKintosh, Moore, Munafo, and Moore – https://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/early/2019/03/08/tobaccocontrol-2018-054584