Vaping ‘driving nicotine use in young people who would not have smoked’

File image of a vaping device
File image of a vaping device

Vaping is driving nicotine use in young people who would never have smoked, researchers have warned.

The use of e-cigarettes has tripled among 18 to 24-year-olds, while smoking has barely fallen, according to figures released on the same day as the Government mothballed its smoking Bill ahead of the general election in July.

University College London (UCL), which compiled the new data, said people who would never have taken up smoking were now vaping, and urged the Government to help discourage the practice.

Under the Tobacco and Vapes Bill, disposable vapes were to be banned and it would have become an offence to sell tobacco products to those born on or after Jan 1 2009.

However, on Thursday, Penny Mordaunt, the Commons leader, confirmed that the smoking ban would not become law before the general election, leaving the legislation in limbo.

The new study, published in The Lancet Regional Health, found that 29 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds were vaping in May 2024, compared with just 9 per cent in May 2021.

At the same time, smoking declined from 25 per cent to 21 per cent in the same age group, while overall nicotine use increased from 28 per cent to 35 per cent.

Dr Harry Tattan-Birch, from the UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, said: “The rapid rise in vaping would be less concerning if smoking rates had come down more rapidly. The overall increase in the use of nicotine shows this has not happened.

“Instead, driven by the arrival of highly popular disposable e-cigarettes, vaping has become much more common among young people, some of whom would likely otherwise have avoided nicotine entirely.”

There are fears that vaping may cause long-term damage to the lungs, hearts and brains of young people.

Nicotine is harmful to developing brains, while chemicals and particulates found in e-cigarettes may cause lung disease and worsen respiratory conditions.

Researchers at UCL looked at survey responses from 132,252 adults in England between July 2016 and May 2023, comparing trends in the prevalence of vaping, smoking and overall nicotine use.

In the older age groups, there were smaller increases in vaping and smaller or no declines in smoking. Vaping prevalence increased from only 5 to 6 per cent in those aged over 45, whereas smoking prevalence increased from 12 to 14 per cent.

The rise in vaping was particularly steep among young adults who had never smoked, increasing from two per cent to nine per cent.

Cancer charities said political parties needed to commit to passing the Bill in the next parliament.

Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said:  “If the Government confirms the Tobacco and Vapes Bill will not make it through wash-up, this will be a disheartening day for people affected by cancer, health professionals and campaigners who have worked tirelessly on the legislation.

“Preventing cancer and saving lives should transcend party politics. It’s vital that all parties commit in their manifestos to bring this Bill back in the first King’s Speech after the general election.

“Let’s prioritise this world-leading legislation and help cancers caused by smoking become a thing of the past.”