The number of teenagers who have tried e-cigarettes has surged by 50 per cent in one year, shocking data showed today.
Some 11.6 per cent of 11-17 year olds in Britain confessed to having ever vaped. This is up on 7.7 per cent last year and twice as high as rates seen a decade ago — before the UK’s kid vaping epidemic blew up.
Results also revealed the number of regular teen users is on the rise, sparking alarm among leading experts.
Politician and medics have today demanded the Government urgently cracks down on the ever-growing crisis, laid bare by Action on Smoking and Health’s annual poll.
Ministers have been urged to ban predatory firms selling vapes in brightly-coloured packaging and in kid-friendly favours like bubblegum. MailOnline’s damning expose last month laid bare the true scale of the problem, which saw one paediatrician say ‘we are sleepwalking into an existential crisis’.
E-cigs are already illegal for under-18s to buy, yet shops have been caught flouting the rules.
The data for Great Britain shows a rise in experimental vaping among 11 to 17-year-olds, from 7.7 per cent last year to 11.6 per cent this year. The figure has more than doubled in a decade, with just 5.6 per cent having puffed on the devices in 2014, according Action on Smoking and Health (Ash)
The brightly coloured displays are seen in shops on Oxford Street labelled as toy, sweet and gift shops
The survey of 2,656 11 to 17-year-olds, carried out by YouGov in March and April, illustrated how disposable vapes are driving the trend, with seven in 10 opting for one over an rechargeable option. Rates were almost 10-fold lower just a few years ago.
Popular ‘puff bars’, as they are known, include Elf Bars, Lost Mary, Elux, Geek and Crystal. They can cost as little as £5 and are sold in corner shops up and down the country.
Nearly three-quarters of youngsters said their first vape was given to them, with two-thirds being given them by a friend.
For children who currently vape, nearly three-quarters said they usually buy their vapes, most commonly from a corner shop (26 per cent).
Youngsters also cited other shops (15 per cent), petrol stations (9.4 per cent) and online (7.6 per cent) as there go-to place for vape shopping.
Overall, the proportion of children using e-cigarettes hit 7.6 per cent in 2023 — the highest figure ever recorded and up from 6.9 per cent last year.
Meanwhile, cigarette usage fell from 4.8 per cent in 2022 to 3.6 per cent in 2023.
When asked why they vape, four in 10 youngsters said they wanted to give them a try, while one in five used them because they wanted to join in with others and 14 per cent said they like the flavours.
The proportion of children exposed to promotions for vapes spiked this year, from 37 per cent last year to 53 per cent in 2023.
Online awareness has also risen (from 24 per cent to 32 per cent), while awareness via buses stood at 11 per cent.
Asked about online awareness, children who had seen vapes promoted online said they had seen them on TikTok (49 per cent), YouTube (29 per cent) Instagram (28 per cent) and Snapchat (24 per cent).
The findings will be submitted as part of the Government’s call for evidence on measures to reduce the number of children accessing vaping, while ensuring e-cigarettes can still be used by adults who want to quit smoking.
When asked why they vape, four in 10 youngsters said they wanted to give them a try, while one in five used them because they wanted to join in with others and 14 per cent said they like the flavours
Overall, the proportion of children using e-cigarettes hit 7.6 per cent in 2023 — the highest figure ever recorded and up from 6.9 per cent last year. Meanwhile, cigarette usage fell from 4.8 per cent in 2022 to 3.6 per cent in 2023
For children who currently vape, nearly three-quarters said they usually buy their vapes, most commonly from a corner shop (26 per cent). Youngsters also cited other shops (15 per cent), petrol stations (9.4 per cent) and online (7.6 per cent) as there go-to place for vape shopping
The survey of 2,656 11 to 17-year-olds, carried out by YouGov in March and April, revealed that disposable vapes are most popular, with seven in 10 opting for one over an rechargeable option
Asked about online awareness, children who had seen vapes promoted online said they had seen them on TikTok (49 per cent), YouTube (29 per cent) Instagram (28 per cent) and Snapchat (24 per cent)
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Ash, said: ‘We need to stem the tide of child vape experimentation and the Government’s investment in a crackdown on illegal underage sales of vapes is a vital first step.
‘But enforcement on its own won’t do the trick without tougher regulation to address the child-friendly promotion of these cheap and attractive products.
‘The Ash youth survey demonstrates the rapid growth of instore promotion of vapes, using brightly coloured pack displays, reminiscent of cigarette displays from yesteryear.
‘The evidence is clear, government needs to take strong action to prevent the marketing of vapes to children.’
Geoff Worsley, a father from Abergele, North Wales, whose change.org petition Stop Children Vaping – More Regulation Now has more than 100,000 signatures, said: ‘Parents like me up and down the country are calling on government to act to protect our children from vaping as well as smoking.
‘More funding for enforcement is a good first step but it’s not enough. Vaping is safer and better for smokers than smoking, but it shouldn’t be promoted to children.
‘Regulations are needed to prevent vapes being openly sold in prominent positions within shops, in brightly coloured packaging and sweet names attractive to kids.
‘We need tougher regulation to stop our children vaping and we need it now.’
Ash said, however, that fears vaping is leading to a new generation addicted to nicotine are not justified by the evidence to date.
Mr Hassett stressed his concern at children not being fully aware of the contents of e-cigarettes, with many so anxious for their next ‘fix’ they are begging teachers to let them vape at school
This shop of Edgware Road sells many types of e-cigarettes in pastel and bright colours
Elf bars, one of Britain’s most-used vapes, could be seen filling shelves in many of the shops visited
In this shop, vape products are sold alongside water pipes used for smoking cannabis
It said the data showed that most of the 20.5 per cent of young people who have ever vaped have only vaped once or twice, or used to vape, or vape less than once a week.
Some 1.8 per cent of those polled said they vape between daily and weekly and 2 per cent every day.
Most (63 per cent) of those who have tried vaping once or twice have never smoked, the data also showed. Yet most (71 per cent) of current vapers have tried smoking.
Ann McNeill, professor of tobacco addictions at King’s College London, said the data showed that too many smoking adults and children believe vaping is more than or equally harmful as smoking.
‘These misperceptions are likely to encourage children to believe that they might as well smoke as vape, and discourage adults who smoke but have never vaped from taking up the Government’s ‘swap to stop’ offer (of taking up vapes instead of cigarettes),’ she said.
‘A well-funded communications campaign is needed to address these growing misperceptions.’
A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: ‘It’s already illegal to sell vapes to children and we are exploring further ways to tackle youth vaping through our newly launched call for evidence, which will look at the appearance and characteristics of vapes, the marketing and promotion of vapes, and the role of social media.
‘We also recently announced a new ‘illicit vapes enforcement squad’ – backed by £3 million – to remove illegal products from shelves and stop them from crossing our borders.’