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‘Little evidence’ that e-cigarettes promote smoking in teenagers, finds study

There is limited evidence that e-cigarettes encouraged smoking in teenagers in the years after they came on the market, a study has concluded.

Researchers looked at whether the proliferation of e-cigarette products between 2010 and 2015 led to increased acceptance of smoking behaviours (a process known as renormalisation) and therefore increased cigarette use.

The study, published in Tobacco Control, looked at almost 250,000 responses to three separate national surveys of 13-15 years olds in the UK between 1998 and 2015.

The percentage of students who described trying a cigarette as ‘OK’ fell from 36% in 2003 to 14% in 2014.

Positive perceptions of smoking declined at the fastest rate post-2010, when e-cigarette use started to increase in the UK, with fewer students saying that trying smoking or smoking weekly was ‘OK’.

The number of pupils who had ever tried smoking fell from 60% to 19% between 1998 and 2015.

Although the rate of decline of pupils having ever smoked was not significant post-2010, there was a small but significant rate decline in pupils who smoked weekly or more regularly between 2011 and 2015.

The researchers said there was little evidence to suggest that the increasing prevalence of e-cigarette use and limited regulation of e-cigarettes contributed to increased youth smoking and positive perceptions of cigarettes.

They said in the paper: ‘Our results provide little evidence that renormalisation of smoking occurred during this period.

‘Newer products entering the market have been described by some as showing particular popularity among young people in the USA. Hence, while neither widespread regular youth vaping, nor the renormalisation of smoking, appear to have occurred during the period investigated here, ongoing monitoring of young people’s e-cigarette use, and links to smoking, remains a public health priority.’

Research published in 2017 suggested that teenagers were more likely to start smoking cigarettes after trying e-cigarettes. 

But NICE backed e-cigarette use in a 2018 update on stop-smoking interventions, recommending that GPs advise patients that ‘many people’ find them useful for giving up smoking. 

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