There’s nothing that gives readers a scare quite like youth vaping. “THE YOUTHS,” they cry as they propose new legislation to take harm reduction tools away from adult smokers who truly need them.
Well, with the advent of disposable vapes, these concerns are growing more pertinent. Still, youth vaping is not as prevalent as many may believe.
The ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) Smokefree GB Youth Survey is an annual survey of young people aged 11-18 (they present results for 11-17 year-olds and 18 year-olds separately) in Great Britain which has been running since 2013.
The survey is conducted online by YouGov and is funded by several organisations, including the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, and the Department of Health and Social Care. The focus of the survey is to monitor young people’s knowledge and use of tobacco and e-cigarette products.
The report of the survey’s findings was published shortly after a vaping smear piece was run by the BBC, which cites an anonymous 17 year-old who says she’s addicted to vapes and “can’t stop buying them.”
For many years, critics have been saying that disposable vapes are being marketed to children, and these statements have repeatedly been dismissed as the data simply didn’t back up the claims—but this year, that’s changed.
What does the ASH 2022 survey say about youth vaping?
ASH UK has said that their most recent 2022 youth vaping and tobacco survey revealed stark evidence that disposable vapes are now the most used product among young vapers. The number has risen more than sevenfold from 7.7% in 2021 to 52% in 2022. Elf Bars and Geek Bars are the most popular disposables by a landslide, with only 30% of current users ever having tried any other disposable vape brands.
Still, while awareness of vaping among young people is high, regular youth vaping remains low. The survey states that regular use of vapes has significantly increased, although it continues to be low among young people aged 11-17 overall. A whopping 83.8% of 11-17 year-olds report never having tried vaping.
Only 3.1% of respondents reported regular vaping (more than once a week) and only 3.9% reported occasional use (less than once a week). The survey also states that most use among 11-17 year-olds remains “experimental,” meaning they only tried vaping once or twice. Just under half of all youth vaping falls into this category.
The survey also proves that reasons for youth vaping vary greatly depending on whether or not the young person has smoked cigarettes. Young people who’ve never smoked are far more likely to report vaping “just to give it a try” (65.4%). Conversely, young people who have smoked report that they vape because they “enjoy the experience” (17.5%), are “trying to quit smoking” (10.7%), or are “addicted to them” (10.3%).
Among the report’s key findings is that children under 16 are the least likely age group to try vaping (10.4%), compared to the 29.1% of 16-17 year-olds and 40.8% of 18 year-olds who report having tried it. Only 7.5% of never-smokers (in any age group) report having tried vaping, and just 1.7% of those never-smokers report vaping at least once a month.
Plus, since 2013, the proportion of 11-17 year-olds who incorrectly believe that vaping is as harmful or worse than tobacco cigarettes has continued to rise, from 12.9% in 2013 to 41% in 2022. The number of respondents who correctly identify vaping as less harmful than smoking has declined from 72.6% in 2013 to just 42.1% in 2022.
Why is youth vaping on the rise?
When it comes to why youth vaping is on the rise, the logic is complex. A mixture of higher rates of adult vapers exposing children to e-cigarettes combined with the convenience and easy access to disposable vapes seems to be just a piece of the larger puzzle as to why young people are vaping more.
Some say that it’s the marketing—that these devices are being directly marketed toward children. For the first time, in 2022, the ASH survey asked respondents about their awareness of e-cigarette promotion, directly questioning how familiar they were with vape marketing.
Over half of all respondents were aware of some form of e-cigarette promotion (55.8%). The sources of exposure were most commonly in shops, followed closely by online marketing. Those who reported seeing e-cigarette promotion online said that the most common platform was TikTok (45.4%), followed by Instagram (31.1%) and Snapchat (22%).
In addition, the 2021 survey (conducted last year) provided images of different vaping starter kits to young people—either in their original branded packaging or with all branding imagery removed. The survey found that the 11-17 year-old demographic expressed a larger preference for the branded starter kits compared to those without any brand imagery. This is contrasted by the results of the same survey conducted with adults (+18 years), who didn’t show a significant preference between branded and non-branded packaging when choosing a vaping starter kit.
The findings of this particular part of the survey prove that brand imagery is most definitely a motivator for young people, while not having a measurable effect on adults. Therefore, reducing brand imagery on vaping products could possibly reduce youth appeal without compromising their appeal to adult smokers.
While the findings about e-cigarette marketing and branding are most certainly a red flag, a piece of data from the ASH survey shows that it might not all be down to “child-friendly” flavour names, packaging, and branding.
A whopping 46.5% of 11-17 year-olds report buying their vapes from shops, with in-person sales being the most popular method for both vape and tobacco cigarettes. Certainly, then, the issue must lie with disreputable distributors selling nicotine-containing products to children, right?
Still, reducing the appeal of and free access to vaping for young people can be a slippery slope—just look at the US. The fears surrounding youth vaping have fuelled countless attacks on the harm reduction tools used successfully by many adult smokers, who rely on vaping to keep their tobacco addictions in check. When creating legislation to protect children from being exposed to products designed for adults, we can’t limit access for adults, lest we get in the way of our goal to achieve a smoke-free world.
What’s the takeaway from the ASH 2022 survey?
The major takeaway from the ASH 2022 youth vaping and tobacco survey is that while young people are more exposed to vaping, and while these young people are very aware of e-cigarettes, youth vaping rates remain low and are primarily experimental among those who have never smoked.
This is a positive sign, given the “news” reports and smear articles claiming that the prevalence of youth vaping has skyrocketed. Now we know that this simply isn’t the case—though the rising numbers should most certainly be monitored.
The major, glaring issue with the survey’s findings is the revelation about disposable vapes and how popular they’ve become among young people. The sevenfold rise in disposable vapes’ popularity among young people is startling, and many experts agree that something must be done to curb both their appeal and their easy access. What can be done, however, is another whole article in and of itself.
We just hope this doesn’t mean restricting access for adult smokers who need vaping the most.
Want more health & science news? Check out our other articles!
- Action on Smoking and Health – Use of e-cigarettes (vapes) among young
people in Great Britain: