Girls aged 11 'get e-cigarettes easily' in north Wales
Girls as young as 11 can get e-cigarettes easily from shops, friends, and parents, public health officials have warned.
Awareness and use of the devices by girls is common in some parts of north Wales they concluded.
Most could name five vapour flavours, while some did not know e-cigarettes could contain nicotine, the research for Public Health Wales (PHW) found.
PHW wants an e-cigarette summit to discourage "trying and buying".
More than 1,100 girls in 34 secondary schools took part in a Social Change UK survey.
Denbighshire, Flintshire and Wrexham were seen as the problem areas and focus groups worked with about 40 girls aged 11 to 12.
Reasons for smoking included helping with stress, because their friends smoked, because it "looked cool", or because it helped lose weight.
Findings in the report include:
- Girls with low aspirations who didn't take part in sport or after school activities were more likely to smoke or use e-cigarettes.
- Around 2% of 11-12-year-olds smoke but this rises to 5% in more deprived communities
- Shock tactics could discourage girls from taking up smoking but worked best when the girls could see themselves or family in a position of harm.
- Most of the girls could name at least five different flavours of e-cigarette vapours which include strawberry milkshake, gummy bear and bubble gum.
- Some were not aware that e-cigarettes could have nicotine in them and most felt that e-cigarettes were 'not as bad' as cigarettes.
There are already projects under way to work with girls in the Wrexham area.
Measures to control the sale of e-cigarettes to under 18s are being developed with trading standards and the message is being taken to social media.
Report author Kelly Evans told BBC Wales: "Overall, young girls were telling us cigarettes were yucky, not nice but that e-cigarettes are better for you or not as bad than cigarettes.
"They're attracted to the different flavours and are trying them and have access to them.
"Ever since the tobacco companies have come into the market the number of flavours is increasing on daily basis. Why do we need 300 flavours? If they're just a smoking aid for adults, why do we need a gummy bear flavour?"WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN NEXT?
- A review to see how anti-smoking programmes are working in schools, followed by an action plan.
- Design a check-list for buildings and spaces to become smoke free, which must include the use of e-cigarettes.
- Ensure that all future campaigns that target young people make full use of social and online media.
- Councils and schools must build confidence in young girls and boys and encourage more to take part in extra-curricular activities.
- Stop smoking services must increase awareness amongst youth groups and assess how they are meeting the needs of people aged under 21.
- A summit on e-cigarettes to discuss what can be done to prevent young people from trying and buying.
Source: Public Health Wales/North Wales Tobacco Control Alliance/Social Change UK report
The Electric Cigarette Industry Trade Association said the variety and number of e-liquid flavours on the UK market were "due to consumer demand."
"ECITA supports the UK government's intentions to implement a mandatory under 18 age restriction on the sale of these products, which will ensure children don't have access to purchase them."
Lorien Jollye of the Electronic Cigarette Consumer Association added: "The array of flavours allows the e-cigarette user to create a distance between the experience of smoking and vaping.
"It could also be said that the flavour choices help prevent relapse back to smoking traditional tobacco."