In recent years, vaping has surged in popularity among young people, becoming a prevalent and concerning trend. With the sleek design and enticing flavours, it is no wonder that young people are drawn to vaping. 

Shockingly there is evidence that shows that young people who take up vaping are more than four times more likely to smoke traditional cigarettes a year later. 83% of smokers start smoking when they’re in their teens, making them much more likely to become addicted. 

Given that vapes and e-cigarettes are intended for those trying to quit smoking, it is worrying to see that vaping is acting as a gateway for young people to start smoking cigarettes. 

Vaping in the UK: Statistics

Worryingly, the number of young people who vape is growing, with more young people vaping than those who smoke. In June 2023, ASH (Action on Smoking and Heath) published the following report: Use of e-cigarettes (vapes) among young people in Great Britain. This report found that:

  • The number of children experimenting with vaping had grown by 50% in the past year.
  • 48% of children 11-17 who have tried vapes have never smoked before.
  • 69% of 11 to 17 years olds who use a vape in England, Scotland and Wales use a disposable vape.
  • 1 in 5 of children aged 11-17 claim to have used a vape.
  • 18% of children aged 11-17 who vape say they vape for the following reason: “other people use them so I join in”

These statistics are concerning, especially given the fact that in the UK it is an offense to sell e-cigarettes or vapes to children under the age of 18. If this is the case then how do such a massive portion of young people have access to vapes? 

Reasons Young People Choose to Vape

The reasons young people choose to vape seem to boil down to a handful of popular reasons. The ASH report listed the following:

  • “Just to give it a try”: There is a lot of curiosity surrounding vaping and a lot of young people just want to try it. 
  • “Other people do so I join in”: Peer pressure and the need to fit into their social group results in more young people vaping.
  • 21% of young people who already smoke say they vape because they like the flavours.
  • Despite the unknown health risks the idea that vaping could be as harmful as smoking is not a deterrent for young people trying vapes. 

Vaping Advertising and Marketing

Part of the problem with young people vaping is that vape advertising and marketing seem to be aimed at promoting disposable vapes to children and young people despite the fact that it is illegal to sell a vape to someone under the age of 18 in the UK.

Here are some of the main difference between cigarette advertising and vape advertising:

Vape advertising

  • The vape industry is allowed to use outdoor advertising e.g. billboards.
  • Vape ads are prohibited in any online media where the content is actively shared to users who have not specifically sought it out.
  • Apart from the nicotine warning on the label, vape packaging is colourful and appealing. 
  • Vape flavours appeal to children with variations such as watermelon, gummy bear, candyfloss and other sweet flavours being sold.  
  • Vape advertisements cannot be targeted at children.

Cigarette advertising

  • UK law says that cigarettes and all tobacco products need to be out of sight except when staff are serving customers or carrying out other day-to-day tasks such as restocking
  • Graphic picture warnings illustrating the dangers of smoking became mandatory on the back of packs in 2008.
  • From 2016, a plain packaging policy was introduced. Cigarette packaging must be a uniform, plain, unattractive color – usually a dull brown/green.

Likewise, the ASH report states in regards to promotions of vaping to children:

  • In 2023, more than 53% of children were aware of promotion in shops, and 32% online.
  • Only one in five (20%) say they never see e-cigarettes being promoted.
  • Although selling vapes to children is illegal, giving them out for free is not, and it is of concern that 2.1% of children who have ever tried vaping report that their first vape was given to them by an e-cigarette company. 

Vaping Health Risks

While vaping is often perceived as a healthy alternative to smoking and there are fewer toxic substances in e-cigarettes, there are still significant health risks associated with vaping.

  • Vaping can cause mouth and throat irritation, headaches, coughs and sickness
  • Vaping is bad for your dental health too and can affect your teeth and cause bad breath.
  • Vaping can be addictive due to the fact that most vape liquid contains nicotine which is a highly addictive substance.
  • There is some evidence to show nicotine may be riskier for young people than for adults as the brain is more sensitive to its effects. Nicotine is an addictive toxin and poisoning can happen if larger doses are taken. 
  • In 2019, there was an outbreak of EVALI, an e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury condition, in the US which was linked to contaminated illegal products. These chemicals are banned in vapes in the UK but worryingly, more and more vapes are being laced with illegal products that can have very harmful effects.
  • There are also the issues of vaping creating money problems, especially if the person has become addicted. 

The long term effects of vaping are still unknown which is concerning given how many young people are currently using vapes. 

Illegal Substances and Spiking 

Another concerning trend occurring in the UK is the increase in illegal vapes that are laced with dangerous and/or illegal substances.

A common substance most prevalent in cannabis vapes such as THC for example, is Synthetic Cannabinoids AKA Spice. Spice, which is also known as the Zombie Drug, is designed to mimic the effects of cannabis and can have extremely severe health implications which can include:

  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety and paranoia
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure, which may cause chest pains and damage your heart and even cause a heart attack
  • Psychotic episodes, which in extreme cases could last for weeks
  • Relapse of mental health illness or an increase the risk of developing a mental illness.

Recently, a head teacher from Oldham, has warned that illegal vaping could kill children. This occurred after a 12-year-old pupil collapsed who had been using a vape containing Spice. Glyn Potts, told the BCC that he feared it would take a tragedy, such as the death of a student, to prompt action from the government to put a stop to children and young people vaping. 

In February of 2024, five children in South London were hospitalized after smoking vapes laced with Spice. The Welsh Emerging Drugs and Identification of Novel Substances service (WEDINOS) revealed that almost a third of the 196 samples of vape liquids submitted to them in 2023 contained a class of chemicals which Spice belongs to.

Smoking Ban: What This Means for Vaping 

Under the Tobacco and Vapes Bill introduced in 2024, children turning 15 in 2024 or younger will never legally be able to be sold tobacco. While it is already illegal to sell vapes to under-18s, fines will increase for retailers breaking the new law. 

There will also bepowers to restrict vape flavours and packaging that are intentionally marketed at children and young people and the display of vape in shops will change. This will move them out of the sight of children and away from appealing products such as sweets and chocolate. 

Vaping products duty starts in October 2026 which means prices will rise at that point as a new tax is added to vapes and a ban of disposable vapes is expected to come into force in early 2025.

Other countries who are also cracking down on vaping include:

  • The US: banning certain vape flavours such as mint and fruit in particular e-cigarettes
  • Australia: Banned the importation of disposable vapes and e-liquids can now only be obtained from a pharmacy with a prescription
  • New Zealand: will ban disposable e-cigarettes, or vapes, and raise financial penalties for those who sell such products to minors.

Resources and Lessons

Do you need lesson materials and resources to help educate your students on the dangers of vaping? Our team has developed a lesson pack on vaping with 4 parts.

  1. An introduction to vaping and the health risks
  2. Vaping and peer pressure
  3. Vaping and the law
  4. The dangers of illegal vapes

Our lessons contain:

  • Main messages and lesson highlights
  • Discussion points around the topic
  • Activities based around the lesson topic
  • Videos from young people and experts discussing different topics
  • Tips on creating safe spaces for discussions and inclusion 

If you would like to hear more about our lessons please contact Nicole Rodden today.