Questionnaires were completed by 16,193 teenagers aged between 14 and 17 and showed that one in five had bought or tried e-cigarettes.
Researchers believe e-cigarettes require stricter controls, donning them the ‘alcopops of the nicotine world.’ Experts say it is important to see how many go on to develop an addiction.
While the vapour from e-cigarettes is less harmful than cigarette smoke, they still contain nicotine – the substance that makes cigarettes addictive.
This has caused a divide in opinion. Some say they are vital for helping smokers quit, while others worry they might ‘normalise’ smoking, acting as a gateway to the habit.
An area of particular interest is their impact on children.
The data was gathered by Liverpool John Moores University and revealed that 19% of respondents had tried ‘vaping’. It also showed that e-cigarettes were used by 5% of teens who had never smoked before, 50% of former smokers and 67% of light smokers.
The link was more apparent in teens who drank alcohol or whose parents smoked.
Professor Mark Bellis said: “To many people the numbers we’ve identified might come as a bit of a shock.
“This is just being drawn into a repertoire – another drug that people can use to experiment with rather than being seen as an alternative to tobacco.”
He goes on to say that e-cigarettes provide a concentrated form of nicotine, which is a highly addictive substance, and that we must be cautious about how we protect the younger generation.
A ban on the sale of e-cigarettes to under-18s and other measures are being considered in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
President of the Electronic Cigarette Industry Trade Association, Katherine Devlin, agrees that young people accessing vaping products is a concern however points out that the data in question only records a single access. This means we cannot tell by this information alone whether or not teens are becoming addicted.
“Other statistical data indicate that this is unlikely. Nevertheless, we hope that the newly introduced mandated age restrictions can reduce this number”, she said.