The availability, advertising and use of e-cigarettes have increased dramatically in the UK in recent years, helped by an absence of regulation on their sale and promotion. This has raised concerns around their potential to cause harm to young people, including through acting as a gateway to tobacco smoking.
The Health Equalities Group in partnership with Centre for Public Health, Liverpool John Moores University has undertaken two e-cigarette research studies.
E-cigarette access among young people in Cheshire and Merseyside. Findings from the 2013 North West Trading Standards Survey
Findings suggest that substantial numbers of young people in Cheshire and Merseyside are accessing e-cigarettes, and that many of these have never smoked tobacco cigarettes, or have tried and not liked them.
Young people that are most likely to use e-cigarettes are those that are already engaged in risky substance use behaviours, including cigarette smoking, binge drinking, drinking in unsupervised settings, and alcohol-related violence.
“Most people I know have got one”. Young people's perceptions and experiences of electronic cigarettes
Findings suggest that e-cigarettes are a prominent part of youth culture in Cheshire and Merseyside, particularly as interest among nonsmokers continues to grow. For young people, much of the appeal of e-cigarettes is in the variety of colours and flavours available, with participants suggesting that there are very few limits to their access of these devices.
Young people demonstrated a clear lack of understanding of the health implications of e-cigarette use, showed great uncertainty as to the safety and efficacy of the devices, and revealed a very limited awareness of current advertising and marketing strategies.
Supporting young people
The emergence of e-cigarettes and other nicotine containing products such as shisha pens raises important questions for schools. For instance, what should schools do in relation to e-cigarettes? What issues should policies and guidance address around the use of e-cigarettes by pupils, teachers and other staff, and by parents and carers on school premises? Should e-cigarettes be banned from schools?
It is important that children and young people are able to make safe, healthy and responsible decisions about drugs including e-cigarettes and other nicotine containing products. At present, Health Equalities Group, are considering how we can support schools and young people in relation to e-cigarettes and other nicotine containing products.