The report is the first in a new set of 3, commissioned by PHE under the Government’s Tobacco Control Plan for England. It looks specifically at the use of e-cigarettes rather than health impacts, which will be the subject of a future report.
The findings show that while experimentation with e-cigarettes among young people has increased in recent years, regular use remains low. Only 1.7% of under-18s use e-cigarettes weekly or more, and the vast majority of those also smoke. Among young people who have never smoked, only 0.2% use e-cigarettes regularly.
Regular e-cigarette use among adults has plateaued over recent years, and remains largely confined to smokers and ex-smokers, with ‘quitting smoking’ the main motivation for adult vapers.
Professor John Newton, Health Improvement Director at Public Health England, said: “In contrast to recent media reports in the US, we are not seeing a surge in e-cigarette use among young people in Britain. While more young people are experimenting with e-cigarettes, the crucial point is that regular use remains low and is very low indeed among those who have never smoked.”
“We will keep a close watch on young people’s vaping and smoking habits to ensure we stay on track to achieve our ambition of a smoke-free generation. Despite e-cigarettes now being the most popular quit aid, just over a third of smokers have never tried one. Only 4% of quit attempts through Stop Smoking Services in England are made using e-cigarettes, despite this being an effective approach.”
Speaking on Sky News, Professor Newton added: “The newspapers don't give the full story.”
The report recommends that Stop Smoking Services should do more to encourage smokers that want to quit with the help of an e-cigarette.
Smoking rates in young people have plateaued in recent years, while smoking rates among adults continue to fall, with just under 15% of adults in England smoking, according to government figures.
A major UK clinical trial, published recently and not included in this PHE report has found e-cigarettes, when combined with face-to-face support, to be up to twice as effective for quitting smoking as other nicotine replacement products, such as patches or gum.
Professor Ann McNeill, Professor of Tobacco Addiction at King’s College London, and lead author of the report said: “We are encouraged that regular vaping among young people in Britain who have never smoked remains low. However, we need to stay vigilant and in particular closely monitor youth smoking. With just over a third of adult smokers having never tried an e-cigarette, there is a clear opportunity for more smokers to try a method, which has helped many others to quit. Smokers should be advised to stop smoking as soon as possible and explore all available options for support, including e-cigarettes.”
Cancer Research UK said: “Regular youth vaping remains rare, which is an encouraging sign. These stats are important to make sure that vaping isn’t becoming popular in young people who don’t smoke. But so far it looks like it’s not taking off. And there’s no good evidence that vaping is causing young people to take up smoking in the UK.”
“Vaping in England: evidence update summary February 2019” by Public Health England - https://bit.ly/2H5Ad6K