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Youth vaping ‘threatens progress’ on UK smoke-free goals

By Patrick Griffin 22nd October 2022 4 Mins


Young people are increasingly aware of vape promotion on TikTok and Instagram, says major new survey.

The UK government is being urged to clamp down on illicit e-cigarette sales after a new survey reveals that more young people are experimenting with vaping.

Specialist retailer VPZ wants tighter controls and a new vape retail licensing system to discourage black market products which attract youngsters.

Its director Doug Mutter warned that increasing numbers of ‘imported, unregulated, flavoured and disposable vaping products’ were readily available from local convenience stores.

He said: “This is an emerging problem that threatens the huge progress of vaping in transforming the health of the nation and helping the country meet its smoke-free targets.”

Mutter was speaking as the annual YouGov youth survey for Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) was published.

This was the first time the survey asked whether children were aware of the promotion of vaping products, with over half (56 percent) saying they were.

TikTok was revealed as the most frequently cited source of online promotion (45 percent) followed by Instagram at 31 percent.

The survey showed that vaping amongst 11 to 17-year-olds was up from four percent in 2020 to seven percent this year.

In addition, 16 percent of children said they had vaped at least once, compared with 14 percent two years ago.

ASH described the scale of the change as ‘concerning’ and said that it required ‘close monitoring’.

However, on a more positive note, the survey revealed that 92 percent of under 18s who had never smoked, had also never vaped.

And while underage vaping has increased, underage smoking now stands at 14 percent – down two percentage points since 2020.

When existing child smokers were asked why they had tried vaping, reasons given included:

  • ‘because I like the flavours’ (21 percent)
  • ‘I enjoy the experience’ (18 percent)
  • ‘just to give it a try’ (15 percent)
  • ‘because I’m trying to quit smoking’ (11 percent) and
  • ‘I use them instead of smoking’ (nine percent).


Reaction to the ASH Youth Survey

Ann McNeill, professor of tobacco addictions, Kings College London.

“Our response must be proportionate given that smoking is a much bigger risk to the health of young people and the good evidence that e-cigarettes can be an effective stop smoking aid.

“Government should ensure existing laws are enforced and identify where regulations could be extended.

“However, this must be done alongside securing a much quicker decline in young people taking up smoking and helping more smokers to stop.”


Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive, ASH.

“The laws need strengthening to prohibit child-friendly packaging and labelling of vaping products and to prevent promotion on social media. Online platforms like TikTok must act now.

“The flood of glamorous promotion of vaping on social media is completely inappropriate…these platforms should take responsibility and turn off the tap.”


Doug Mutter, Director, specialist vape retailer VPZ.

“We have a challenge in the industry where imported, unregulated, flavoured and disposable vaping products are readily available from local convenience stores and supermarkets with no control or regulation.

“This is an emerging problem that threatens the huge progress of vaping in transforming the health of the nation and helping the country meet its smoke-free targets.

“We urge the government to act now and follow best practice from countries like New Zealand where products can only be sold from specialist licensed vaping stores, where a challenge 25 policy is in place and consultation is aimed towards adult smokers and vapers.”


Gillian Golden, Chief Executive, Independent British Vape Trade Association.

“Social media platforms supposedly have policies to prevent promotion of vapes to children, but they do little to enforce them…with TikTok being the worst offender.

“Most retailers and importers don’t sell to children and want tougher enforcement to ensure that others don’t either.”


John Herriman, Chief Executive, Chartered Trading Standards Institute.

“Given the particular prominence around age-restriction as a means of reducing smoking rates, in the recently published independent review of smoking by Javed Khan, additional funding is vital for trading standards, so that we can protect our communities and enforce the law.”


Kate Pike, Regional Co-ordinator, Trading Standards North West:

“Funding from the Department of Health and the MHRA helped us to take action against black market importers and distributors but more funding is needed if we’re to address the scale of the problem that’s been identified.

“These businesses have been fuelling the market in non-compliant vapes and underage sales, not just in our region but all round the country.”

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Topics: Youth Vaping


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Patrick Griffin