Vapes ‘do NOT help young smokers ditch habit’: Gadgets might actually ‘entrench’ cigarette use among kids, study claims
Teenagers who smoke and vape are up to twice as likely to be heavy smokers by the time they leave school than those who only use tobacco, research suggests.
Experts said using the devices to supplement cigarettes was more likely to ‘entrench’ tobacco use amongst adolescents.
They found frequent smoking – classed as more than six cigarettes a week or 27 a month – was significantly higher in those who started vaping when aged under 15.
By the age of 18, some 37 per cent of those vaping and smoking were deemed to be heavy smokers compared to 23 per cent who only used tobacco.
Researchers said it showed the devices, billed as quitting-aids for adult smokers, could be especially damaging among the young, adding that ‘comprehensive steps must be taken to reduce adolescent access to e-cigarettes’.
Experts said using the devices to supplement cigarettes was more likely to ‘entrench’ tobacco use amongst adolescents (stock image)
A team of US researchers analysed data over more than 1,000 teenagers from the UK and around 800 US teenagers who were smokers before the age of 15.
Teenagers were regularly surveyed about their use of vapes and cigarettes up to the age of 17.
They found more than half of teen smokers also vaped, at 57 and 58 per cent of UK and US respectively.
Smokers who were also vape users in their early teens were more likely to continue smoking into their late teens, the researchers said.
Some 61 per cent of early vapers from the UK were still smoking in their late teens compared with 50 per cent of non-vapers, with the equivalent in the US far lower at 42 and 24 per cent.
It was estimated that UK teenagers who smoked and vaped in early adolescence were 45 per cent more likely to be smokers in their late teens compared to those who smoked but never vaped.
They also found that teens who smoked in early adolescence but did not use e-cigarettes were more likely to report no nicotine use in late adolescence, according to the findings published in the BMJ journal, Tobacco Control.
‘Among youth who started smoking early in adolescence, early e-cigarette adopters were more likely to become entrenched into tobacco use and in heavier smoking than those who smoked but had not used e-cigarettes,’ they wrote.
They added: ‘Tobacco control efforts aimed at adolescents should incorporate the risks posed by e-cigarettes for early smoking youth.’
The findings come after the government announced free vape kits will be offered on the NHS to help smokers to give up tobacco, in a world first.
Ministers said an enforcement squad will also be set up to crack down on underage vaping, with NHS figures showing 9 per cent of 11 to 15-year-olds used e-cigs in 2021, up from 6 per cent in 2018.
Commenting on the study, John Britton, of the University of Nottingham, said: ‘This study concludes that an association between vaping and continued smoking in adolescents who started smoking very young is consistent with entrenchment of smoking by vaping.
‘An alternative hypothesis, that vaping by adolescent smokers is confounded with more severe nicotine addiction, does not appear to be considered. Most adolescent vaping is transient; those who persist with it are likely to be the most addicted smokers and hence those who are least likely to quit.’
The authors stressed their findings were observational and that further research is needed.
Dr Sharon Cox, of University College London’s Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group, said it was wrong to imply vaping was the cause of the addiction.
She said: ‘Tobacco smoking is by far the more dangerous product of the two, and by implicating vaping as the cause for and maintenance of smoking, we risk losing sight of how addictive and harmful smoking is.
‘Cigarettes have long been addicting young people, from this paper we see that has not changed.’