Increasing numbers of children are exposed to e-cigarettes while shopping

Increased awareness and sources of tobacco and e-cigarettes among children.


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It is illegal in the UK to sell tobacco or nicotine e-cigarettes to persons under 18, as well as to display tobacco cigarettes at the point of sale. A new study found that children are more familiar with e-cigarettes and are more likely to buy them from local stores.

Imperial College London researchers used data collected from the ASH survey over five years to analyze youth vaping data collected from 2018 to 2022.

The researchers found that the proportion of children who reported seeing e-cigarettes on display in shops increased from 12,445 responses to this online survey. They found an increase in the proportion of children reporting seeing e-cigarettes in shops and fewer tobacco cigarettes for sale. The research participant was aged between 11 and 18.

In small shops, children were more likely to notice e-cigarettes in 2022 than in supermarkets, they were more likely to see tobacco products, from 67% to 59% in 2022, than in 2018. Researchers also examined the source from which children purchase the products.

The sources of tobacco products for children who smoke tobacco have stayed the same over time; approximately 50% buy tobacco products from small shops and 25% from supermarkets. It was reported that 57% of 11-13-year-olds who smoked tobacco bought this from small shops, and 55% of 11-13-year-olds who bought e-cigarettes from small shops. Compared to 2019, 51% of children who vaped bought e-cigarettes from small shops in 2022, while 34% bought them from small shops in 2019.

Study co-author Professor Nicholas Hopkinson, from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial, added: “In 2021, the UK government rejected amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill which would have given it the power to control types of e-cigarette marketing that promote youth uptake. Since then, youth vaping has increased dramatically. It is well past time for the government to take steps to deal with this.”

He added, “As well as display bans and standardized packaging, an excise tax on disposable vapes would stop them being available at pocket money prices and bring them into the excise control regime, giving HMRC and Border Force powers to deal with illegal imports.”

The study concludes that strategies in the United Kingdom to minimize adolescent awareness and access to tobacco and e-cigarettes may be ineffective. UK rules on tobacco and e-cigarette advertising, promotion, and sale must be strengthened to discourage usage among children and adolescents.

According to the researchers, tobacco and e-cigarette products should be promoted and sold to children with greater caution. They highlight high levels of exposure to tobacco and e-cigarettes among children and the ease of accessing these products. There is a need to enforce tobacco display laws and action to prevent children from accessing vapes and cut back on e-cigarette advertising.

Dr. Anthony Laverty, from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, who led the research, said: “These results highlight high levels of exposure to tobacco and e-cigarettes among children as well as the ease of accessing these products.”

The research was funded by Cancer Research UK (CRUK).

Journal Reference:

  1. Jennie C Parnham1, Charlotte Vrinten1, etal. Changing awareness and sources of tobacco and e-cigarettes among children and adolescents in Great Britain.Tobacco Control. DOI: 10.1136/tc-2023-058011


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