Worrying increase in e-cig use by 15-16-year olds

By June Shannon Policy News   |   20th Nov 2020

Concern on increased use of e-cigarettes by young people in Ireland

The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland’s (RCPI) Policy Group on Tobacco has expressed concern over a new report showing a significant rise in the use of e-cigarettes by young people in Ireland, and has called on the government to fast-track legislation on e-cigarettes.

Dr Angie Brown, Medical Director of the Irish Heart Foundation is a member of the RCPI Policy Group on Tobacco.

According to the Irish European Schools Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD) report on alcohol, tobacco and drug use among 15 to 16-year olds, there has been a 50 per cent increase in e-cigarette use by young people in Ireland in the past five years.

The ESPAD report is a cross-European survey carried out every four years on substance use among students aged 15 and 16 in 39 countries. It monitors trends in alcohol and drug use, smoking and gambling, gaming and internet use.

Report shows 50 per cent increase in e-cigarette use by young people in Ireland in the past five years.

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The Ireland Report was conducted by the Tobacco Free Research Institute Ireland for the Department of Health, and includes data for a total of 1,949 Irish students who were born in 2003 across a random sample of 50 secondary schools.

Among the key findings of the ESPAD 2019 Ireland Report were that a third or 32 per cent of respondents had tried smoking and 14 per cent were current smokers (reported smoking in the last 30 days) with 5 per cent smoking daily.

Furthermore 39 per cent of students surveyed reported having ever used an e-cigarette and of these, 16 per cent reported using one in the last 30 days.

Overall the study found that there has been a 50 per cent rise in e-cigarette use since the previous study in 2015.

According to the RCPI, “This worrying trend clearly demonstrates that more children in Ireland are experimenting with e-cigarettes and most children surveyed in the study who use e-cigarettes do not perceive any harm in trying them.”

The study also reports that although the overall number of children currently smoking tobacco had been steadily decreasing since 1995, there has been a slight increase in children currently smoking tobacco since 2015 which the RCPI said was “troubling.”

39 per cent of students surveyed reported having ever used an e-cigarette

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According to the RCPI, “Early indicators from this report are that Ireland’s previous downward trend of childhood tobacco use has stalled. The government needs to urgently assess the current Tobacco Free Ireland strategy to address this worrying pattern in respect to both tobacco and e-cigarette smoking in adolescents.”.

A recent review of e-cigarette use conducted by the Health Research Board (HRB) concluded that adolescents who have ever smoked an e-cigarette were four times more likely to start smoking compared to those who have never used an e-cigarette, and that e-cigarettes are not harmless products.

The RCPI Policy Group on Tobacco called on the government to urgently introduce the long-awaited Public Health (Tobacco and Nicotine Inhaling Products) Bill 2019. This Bill will ban the sale of nicotine inhaled products to minors and is vital to protect children from the dangers of e-cigarettes and prevent them starting tobacco cigarettes.

In addition, the group reiterated its call to urgently place further restrictions on e-cigarettes. The Policy Group strongly supports the introduction of a ban on all e-cigarette flavours and additional prohibitive measures on the advertising and marketing of e-cigarettes akin to what is currently in place for manufactured tobacco cigarettes.

The Irish Heart Foundation welcomes the new legislation which proposes banning the sale of e-cigarettes to under 18-year olds, but the charity has also called for a blanket ban on the advertising of these products to all ages. 

" The Irish Heart Foundation is calling on the government to immediately prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to and by anyone under the age of 18,"

Mark Murphy, Advocacy Officer, The Irish Heart Foundation

In 2019 the Irish Heart Foundation together with the Irish Cancer Society called for strict restrictions on e-cigarette flavours and advertising to be included in the upcoming legislation.

Commenting on the ESPAD Ireland report Mark Murphy, Advocacy Officer with the Irish Heart Foundation said, ‘’The latest report from EPSAD is highly alarming as it shows that Ireland has stalled in its progress to eliminate tobacco use among our young people and failed to halt the rising trend of e-cigarette use among teenagers.

“Equally concerning is the finding that 39 per cent of students surveyed reported having ever used an e-cigarette, which is 50 per cent up from 2015. We cannot allow this trend this to continue and only swift legislative action will halt and reverse this. Tobacco companies are using e-cigarettes as a means to target young people and get them addicted to nicotine. We know that e-cigarettes act as a gateway to eventual tobacco use so we cannot afford to be complacent and risk losing an entire new generation to nicotine addiction.

“To combat the worrying use of e-cigarettes among young people and to reduce prevalence, the Irish Heart Foundation is calling on the government to immediately prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to and by anyone under the age of 18, ban on all e-cigarette product advertising through all communication mediums, including outdoor areas (billboards, buses), at point of sale and online, ban e-cigarette flavours and explore the feasibility of banning online cross-border e-cigarette sales.’’

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