E-cigarettes and associated products should be subject to greater regulation, according to researchers from Liverpool John Moores University, after a study found that one in five children aged between 14 and 17 had used one.
The study, published in open-access journal BMC Public Health, examined 16,193 school students in North West England, and found that 19.2% of the respondents had used an e-cigarette. The prevalence of e-cigarette use rose in groups that smoked conventional tobacco products more often. For example, 75.8% of those who smoked five or more cigarettes a day reported using an e-cigarette, while just 4.9% of those who had never smoked a cigarette reported using an e-cigarette at least once.
The study's authors said: 'There is an urgent need for controls on the promotion and sale of e-cigarettes to children. Findings suggest that e-cigarettes are being used by teenagers more for experimentation than for smoking cessation. Those most likely to access e-cigarettes may already be familiar with illicit methods of accessing age-restricted substances.'
The study also found a link between e-cigarette use and alcohol use. Students who drank alcohol were significantly more likely to have used e-cigarettes than non-drinkers, with 23.7% accessing the product, compared to 9.3% of non-drinkers. E-cigarette prevalence rose from less than one in ten in non-drinkers to 41.9% in regular drinkers that binged.
A spokesperson for anti-smoking charity ASH said: 'While this study is interesting and useful, it has to be looked at in the context of other data we have seen on the subject. The number of smokers using e-cigarettes is far higher than non-smokers, who are almost negligible in the data.'