A large-scale survey of e-cigarette use among high school students in England has revealed one in five have accessed them, claim findings published in BMC Public Health. More alarmingly, say academics, a large number of the 14-17 year-olds quizzed revealed e-cigarette was their first introduction to tobacco.
More than 16,000 students took part in the study carried out across a large area of England by researchers from Liverpool John Moores University, Xinhua reported. In their findings, the researchers urgently call for controls on the promotion and sale of e-cigarettes to children.
E-cigarettes are marketed as an alternative nicotine delivery system that is said to be healthier than tobacco but has sparked a global debate around their safety and efficacy. The researchers say a key concern with e-cigarettes is the potential to recruit children to nicotine dependence, with almost one-in-20 teenagers who had never smoked conventional cigarettes accessing e-cigarettes.
One of the authors of the study, professor Mark Bellis said the research suggests people should be very concerned about teenagers accessing e-cigarettes. "While debate on e-cigarettes has focused largely on whether or not they act as a gateway to tobacco cigarette use, e-cigarettes themselves contain a highly addictive drug that may have more serious and longer lasting impacts on children because their brains are still developing," Bellis said.
Despite being practically unheard of just a decade ago, e-cigarettes are now widely available, heavily promoted yet weakly regulated. Such rapid penetration into teenage culture of what is essentially a new drug use option is without precedent, according to the professor.
The team say the high prevalence of e-cigarette access among teenagers and their use among those who have never smoked conventional cigarettes, highlights an urgent need for age restrictions on the promotion and sale of e-cigarettes.
"Our findings highlight the urgent need for controls on e-cigarette sales to children. The longer such controls are delayed, the greater the number of children likely to want to access e-cigarettes illicitly once a ban on sales to children is imposed," the researchers said.