E-cigs unlikely to contribute to pupil addiction - study

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Media captionMore than 9,000 11-16 year olds took part in the study

E-cigarettes are unlikely to be making a significant contribution to young peoples' nicotine addiction, the latest research has found.

But they could become normalised "relatively quickly" with children because of their experimental use, the Cardiff University study found.

It comes as 6% of 10 to 11-year-olds and 12% of 11 to 16-year-olds said they had used an e-cigarette at least once.

Only 15 to 16-year-olds asked said they smoked tobacco more than e-cigarettes.

The research, carried out on behalf of the Welsh government, used data from two national surveys conducted in 2013-14 involving primary and secondary school pupils.

The study found:

  • More pupils reported having ever used e-cigarettes than tobacco across all age groups until age 14-15
  • Overall, 12% of secondary school students reported ever using e-cigarettes, with no differences according to gender, ethnicity or social background
  • The percentage of those who had "never smoked" reporting they had used an e-cigarette was 5% at age 10-11 and 8% at age 15-16

But in conclusion, the report authors said: "The prevalence of experimental e-cigarette use, combined with few distinctions according gender or family background could allow e-cigarettes to become normalised relatively quickly with the youth population.

"However, at present, there is a very low prevalence of regular use, which suggests that e-cigarettes are unlikely to be making a significant direct contribution to adolescent nicotine addiction."

They said future research was needed to understand the motivations behind young people's experimentation with e-cigarettes and to understand the relationships between their use of e-cigarettes and tobacco.

The Welsh government's chief medical officer, Dr Ruth Hussey, said she was concerned e-cigarettes could normalise smoking among a generation which had grown up in a largely smoke-free society.

"This research demonstrates that e-cigarettes are being used by young people who have never smoked," she said.

"We should be doing everything we can to prevent a new generation becoming addicted to nicotine, because it is a highly addictive substance and has been shown to impact on brain development."

She added a Welsh government white paper had set out proposals to restrict the use of e-cigarettes in public places in line with restrictions on conventional cigarettes in a bid to protect people's health.

If approved, Wales could be the first part of the UK to ban them in enclosed public places.

In all, 1,601 children aged 10-11 and 9,055 children aged 11-16 were quizzed about their use of e-cigarettes for the study.

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