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Cross-sectional study examining the prevalence, correlates and sequencing of electronic cigarette and tobacco use among 11-16-year olds in schools in Wales

03 Feb 2017

Objectives

To examine the prevalence and frequency of electronic (e)-cigarette use among young people in Wales, associations with socio-demographic characteristics, smoking and other substances and the sequencing of e-cigarette and tobacco use.

Design

A cross-sectional survey of school students in Wales undertaken in 2015.

Setting

87 secondary schools in Wales.

Participants

Students aged 11–16 (n=32 479).

Results

Overall, students were nearly twice as likely to report ever using e-cigarettes (18.5%) as smoking tobacco (10.5%). Use of e-cigarettes at least weekly was 2.7% in the whole sample, rising to 5.7% among those aged 15–16. Almost half (41.8%) of daily smokers reported being regular e-cigarette users. Regular e-cigarette use was more prevalent among current cannabis users (relative risk ratio (RRR)=41.82; 95% CI 33.48 to 52.25)), binge drinkers (RRR=47.88; 95% CI 35.77 to 64.11), users of mephedrone (RRR=32.38; 95% CI 23.05 to 45.52) and laughing gas users (RRR=3.71; 95% CI 3.04 to 4.51). Multivariate analysis combining demographics and smoking status showed that only gender (being male) and tobacco use independently predicted regular use of e-cigarettes (p<0.001). Among weekly smokers who had tried tobacco and e-cigarettes (n=877), the vast majority reported that they tried tobacco before using an e-cigarette (n=727; 82.9%).

Conclusions

Since 2013, youth experimentation with e-cigarettes has grown rapidly in Wales and is now almost twice as common as experimentation with tobacco. Regular use has almost doubled, and is increasing among never and non-smokers. These data suggest that e-cigarette use among youth is an emerging public health issue, even though there remains no evidence that it represents a new pathway into smoking. Mixed methods longitudinal research is needed to explore why young people use e-cigarettes, and to develop interventions to prevent further increases in use.

Click here to view the full article which appeared in BMJ Open