‘Worrying’ rise in vaping among teenagers and young adults, data suggests

Figures show the number of cigarette smokers has dropped, although a charity said the rate is ‘not nearly fast enough’.

Storm Newton
Tuesday 05 September 2023 11:14 BST
A new ONS survey found 4.5 million people reported being daily or occasional vape users in 2022 (Nicholas T Ansell/PA)
A new ONS survey found 4.5 million people reported being daily or occasional vape users in 2022 (Nicholas T Ansell/PA)

More people aged 16 to 24 in Britain are using e-cigarettes – with a sharp rise among young women – which experts have called “worrying”.

It comes as the number of people smoking cigarettes in the UK has dropped to a record low.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) used data from its Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN), a poll of 16,300 people over the age of 16 in Britain.

It found 5.2% of people used e-cigarettes daily in 2022, up from 4.9% in 2021, with a further 3.5% reporting occasional vape use, up from 2.8%.

The ONS said the figure equates to about 4.5 million people in Britain, a rise of some 500,000 on the previous year.

The proportion of people using vapes was highest among current cigarette smokers (27.1%) and former smokers (16.5%).

About 2.4% of people who had never smoked cigarettes reported using vapes every day or on occasion, up from 1.5% in the previous 12 months. Occasional use in those who had never smoked jumped from 0.8% to 1.8%.

A higher number of men reported daily or occasional vape use (9.5%) compared with women (7.9%).

However, there was a significant rise in younger women vaping, with 6.7% of those aged 16 to 24 using e-cigarettes daily – up from 1.9% in 2021 – and 12.2% using them occasionally, up from 7.1%.

The number of people in that age group overall who vaped jumped to 15.5% from 11.1%.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of charity Action on Smoking and Health (Ash), said the data shows “a worrying growth in vaping among teens and young adults”.

In the UK, it is illegal to buy vapes and e-cigarettes if you are under the age of 18.

Ms Arnott added: “The Government’s response to the consultation on youth vaping due imminently must contain concrete measures to prohibit child-friendly branding, and put products out of sight and out of reach in shops, as well as much stricter regulation including a tax on the pocket money-priced disposable vapes most popular with children.”

In June, NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard said 40 children were admitted to hospital in England in 2022 due to “vaping-related disorders”, up from 11 two years earlier.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has vowed to close a loophole which allows retailers to give free samples of vapes to children in England amid an increase in teenagers using e-cigarettes.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has also called for an outright ban on disposable vapes.

The Department of Health and Social Care said it is looking to “balance the public health opportunities vaping offers to smokers, while protecting young people and non-smokers from using them”.

In 2019, the Government outlined its ambition to make England “smoke-free” – meaning less than 5% of adults smoke – by 2030.

Some measures of the initiative include “swap to stop”, which will offer a million smokers across England a free vaping starter kit, as well as financial incentives to help pregnant women stop smoking.

The ONS Annual Population Survey (APS) of about 192,265 adults over 18 in the UK found 12.9% – or 6.4 million people – smoked in 2022.

The ONS said this is the lowest number since records began in 2011 and is a drop on the 13.3% reported in 2021.

Some 5.3 million smokers live in England, with 340,000 in Wales, 200,000 in Northern Ireland and 590,000 in Scotland.

Financial stress and poor mental health are on the rise, which we know makes it harder for smokers to quit

Deborah Arnott, Action on Smoking and Health

James Tucker, data and analysis for social care and health division at the ONS, said the figure is “consistent with the continuing trend towards a decline in smoking prevalence over recent years”.

However, Ms Arnott said the rate of decline is “not nearly fast enough to deliver on the Government’s ambition”.

She added: “Financial stress and poor mental health are on the rise, which we know makes it harder for smokers to quit. Initiatives like ‘swap to stop’ are helpful but they’re nowhere near enough.

“The Government must step up its support to smokers; for example, by reinvesting in the vital campaigns to motivate smokers to quit and discourage youth uptake which have been cut to the bone in recent years.”

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