Electronic cigarettes “do not discourage, and may encourage” young people to take up or carry on smoking, researchers in the USA have claimed.
In findings which come as a direct challenge to manufacturers who market e-cigarettes as quit-smoking aids, the authors of a study into recent smoking habits among American adolescents said their results “suggest that e-cigarette use is aggravating rather than ameliorating the tobacco epidemic among youths”.
E-cigarettes have seen a rapid growth in popularity around the world in recent years. There are estimated to be around 1.3 million users in the UK and figures from the USA’s National Youth Tobacco Survey show that the proportion of 11-to-18-year-olds who had tried them more than doubled from 3.1 per cent in 2011 to 6.5 per cent in 2012.
Researchers from the University of California’s Center for Tobacco Research and Education found that using e-cigarettes was associated with an increased likelihood of “experimenting” with conventional cigarettes, while a large proportion of e-cigarette users were engaging in “dual use” of both electronic and conventional products.
Nearly two thirds of young people who had used e-cigarettes at least once had never been established smokers and just under half of regular e-cigarette users also smoked conventional cigarettes, researchers found.
However, their study did not analyse the reasons that people took up e-cigarettes and manufacturers challenged their conclusions, saying there was no evidence that their products were acting as a “gateway” to smoking.
The study’s authors said that e-cigarettes were now being “aggressively marketed” in the same that tobacco was before in the 1950s and 1960s, including on the television and radio where advertising bans were introduced for conventional cigarettes decades ago.
Last month, British American Tobacco became the first tobacco company to advertise on television in the UK for nearly 50 years, showcasing their own brand of e-cigarettes.
The global market for the products is now worth around $3 billion and big tobacco is increasing its activity a field that had previously been dominated by smaller, specialist manufacturers. A product made by a subsidiary of Imperial Tobacco is now available in Boots.
However, they are also coming under tighter restrictions. Under 18s will be banned from buying them in the UK under plans announced by the Government earlier this year and the European Parliament voted last week to ban reusable or refillable devices, which deliver a bigger nicotine hit. Los Angeles City Council, meanwhile, has voted to ban the use of all e-cigarettes in restaurants, bars, clubs and other public spaces.
E-cigarettes deliver a dose of nicotine, one of the addictive elements of tobacco, but contain far fewer toxins than cigarettes and are considerably less harmful to health. Despite being marketed as smoking cessation aids, they have divided opinion among health campaigners.
The leading UK charity, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) has conducted studies which suggest that e-cigarettes do not appear to be undermining attempts to quit smoking among adults, and that children who don’t already smoke are not taking them up in large numbers.
“In the UK adult smokers and recent ex-smokers are far and away the biggest users of electronic cigarettes, what's more these adults seem to be using them to switch from smoking,” an ASH spokesperson said.
Charles Hamshaw-Thomas, a director at E-Lites, a UK e-cigarette brand, said that the company supported a ban on sales and marketing to children but added it was difficult to “square the argument” that e-cigarettes were encouraging young people to smoke when tobacco use was falling.
“Some teenagers use them as a safe way to rebel against their parents, but there is no evidence that children are being lured into tobacco use by e-cigarettes. Quite the reverse,” he said.Reuse content