North East health campaigners welcome low youth smoking but call for more protection for children from vaping promotion
Fresh has welcomed new figures from Action on Smoking and Health which show both current youth smoking and vaping have not increased and remain low.
Today ASH published headline results for its 2023 vaping surveys  to inform responses to a government call for evidence on how to reduce youth vaping which closes on 6th June. 
The 2023 ASH survey of children find that among children aged 11-17:
- Youth smoking rates remain low – 3.6% of children aged 11-17 smoke
- No significant change between 2022 and 2023 in the proportion of 11-17 year olds currently vaping – 7.6%
- Trying vaping once or twice is up by 50% among children 11-17 on last year
- Corner shops are the main source of purchase and child awareness of instore promotion has grown significantly since last year
- Around 11.6% of young people have tried vaping once or twice, compared to 7.7% in 2022 
Fresh say the results highlight weaknesses in the current legal framework for vapes, particularly around youth access and promotion. Despite laws banning sales of vapes and tobacco to under 18s, nearly three quarters (72%) say they usually buy their vapes, and most commonly from a corner shop (26%).
Children are most aware of vape promotion in shops which is also where exposure has grown most rapidly, up from 37% last year to 53% in 2023. Awareness of online promotion has also risen from 24% to 32%.
Fresh is encouraging any adult who smokes to try to quit and this could include switching over totally to vaping which is much less harmful than smoking – but Fresh is also calling for more protection for children around the promotion, branding and under age sales of vapes in the Government call for evidence on youth vaping.
Ailsa Rutter OBE, Director of Fresh and Balance said:
“Cigarettes are the most lethal consumer product available on the market, killing up to two in three lifetime users and smoking is an addiction that usually starts in childhood.
Smoking rates among adults in the North East have nearly halved over the last two decades and to see smoking rates among young people at their lowest level is another important milestone. It is testament to the important measures in England to reduce the appeal, accessibility and affordability of tobacco.
“Vapes are continuing to play a vital role in helping adults to quit smoking tobacco and we need to ensure they remain an accessible option – we’d encourage all smokers to give vaping a go.
But she added: “However, while current youth vaping rates remain similar to last year, we know that more needs to be done to ensure shops aren’t selling to children and that the amount of inappropriate promotion is reduced. We’ll be feeding in the views of the North East to the government consultation on youth vaping so that effective policies can be introduced for vapes while still reassuring smokers that vapes offer a significantly less harmful alternative to tobacco.
“We are also be calling for increased measures on the most harmful product – tobacco – including a statutory levy on the tobacco industry so that they pay for the damage they inflict on society.”
Rest of the content below is from ASH PR…
Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive, ASH said: “We need to stem the tide of child vape experimentation and the Government’s investment in a crackdown on illegal underage sales of vapes is a vital first step. But enforcement on its own won’t do the trick without tougher regulation to address the child friendly promotion of these cheap and attractive products. The ASH youth survey demonstrates the rapid growth of instore promotion of vapes, using brightly coloured pack displays, reminiscent of cigarette displays from yesteryear. The evidence is clear, government needs to take strong action to prevent the marketing of vapes to children.”
The survey also shows:
- Most of the 20.5% of young people who have ever vaped have only vaped once or twice or used to vape (12.9%), or use less than once a week (3.9%) with 1.8% saying they vape between daily and weekly and 2.0% every day.
- Most (63%) of those who have tried vaping once or twice have never smoked, while the majority (71%) of current vapers have tried smoking. This is consistent with evidence from other sources which find that it is more likely that there is a “common liability” in substance use for adolescents,[6}  rather than that vaping is proving to be a gateway into smoking.
- ‘Just to give it a try’ is still the most common reason given for using an e-cigarette (40%), followed by ‘other people use them so I join in’ (19%) then ‘I like the flavours’ (14%) with a small minority saying they think they’re addicted (3.2%).
- 11.5% of children 11-17 who have never smoked have ever vaped and only 2.3% of never smokers currently vape.
The Government recently acknowledged the role vaping can play as a “powerful tool” to stop adults smoking with plans announced for 1 million smokers to receive free vape kits over the next two years to help them “swap to stop” 
Adult vaping continues to grow year-on-year, mainly among ex-smokers to prevent relapse or current smokers trying to cut down or quit. However more than one in four (27%) of adult smokers have never tried vaping.
- Only 5.7% of adult never smokers have ever vaped
- only 1.1% of never smokers currently vape,
The Government strategy is to deliver a smokefree 2030 by “cutting smoking and stopping kids vaping”.  However, a concern remains this could be undermined by the growing misperception that vaping is more than or equally risky as smoking among children (up from 41% in 2022 to 54% in 2023) and adult smokers (up from 32% in 2022 to 39% in 2023).
Amanda Healy, Association of Directors of Public Health North East Chair, said:
“Vaping is a helpful tool for quitting so, at the same time as continuing to advocate for tighter regulations where needed, we must ensure a balance between protecting young people and supporting smokers to quit.
“Clearly however, we need to reduce the number of young people accessing vape products and the amount of non-compliant products available for sale and we are working closely with our colleagues in Trading Standards to support compliance with regulations and take enforcement action when necessary.”