Vaping: rise in the number of schoolchildren using e-cigarettes, new figures show

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The report showed a decrease in the number of school children taking drugs and smoking cigarettes, but a rise in vaping

There has been a rise in the number of schoolchildren using e-cigarettes, with experts saying the country is “sleepwalking into a public health catastrophe”.

Data from NHS Digital reveals the number of young people vaping has increased, with 9% of secondary school pupils aged 11 to 15 currently - either regularly or occasionally - using e-cigarettes in 2021. This was an increase from 6% in 2018, according to statistics.

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There has been a rise in the number of schoolchildren using e-cigarettesThere has been a rise in the number of schoolchildren using e-cigarettes
There has been a rise in the number of schoolchildren using e-cigarettes | Adobe

Almost one in five 15-year-olds are current e-cigarette users, with vaping among girls in this age bracket increasing from 10% in 2018 to 21% in 2021.

The report, which contains results from a biennial survey of secondary school pupils in years 7-11 in England - mostly aged 11-15 - focused on smoking, drinking and drug use, with a decrease in numbers of school children taking drugs and smoking cigarettes, but a rise in vaping.

It showed more smokers are now vaping, with the proportion of people who regularly smoke and use e-cigarettes increasing from 29% in 2018 to 61% in 2021.

Analysis showed that 23% of pupils who met people every day were current e-cigarette users, compared to 1% for those who never met people outside of home or school.

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Professor Andrew Bush, a consultant paediatric chest physician at Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals, told The Guardian in July that he is “concerned that we are sleepwalking into a public health catastrophe with a generation of children hooked on nicotine.”

Dr Ben Mulhearn, general internal medicine and rheumatology registrar at Royal United Hospitals, Bath, said: “Vaping is a valuable tool in helping people stop smoking cigarettes who are already addicted to nicotine.

“However, the long term health consequences remain unknown and there have been reports that vaping can cause irreversible lung damage.

“For this reason, vaping should not be advertised as a healthy alternative to smoking and it is wrong for companies to encourage non-smokers to take up vaping.”

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What else did the report find?

The report found that cigarette smoking has decreased, with 3% of pupils being current smokers - a decline from 5% in 2018.

In addition to this, 12% reported having ever smoked, this being both a decrease from 16% in 2018 and the lowest level ever recorded.

The number of young people taking drugs has also decreased, 18% of pupils reported having ever taken drugs, a decline from 24% in 2018. 12% of pupils said they had taken drugs in the last year, down from 17% in 2018.

Research showed that pupils who frequently met up with people outside their school or home were more likely to have recently smoked, drunk alcohol or taken drugs.

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Of pupils who met with people every day, 9% were current smokers, 12% usually drank alcohol once a week, and 19% had taken drugs in the last month.

However, for pupils who had never met other people in the last four weeks, this dropped to 1%, 2%, and 2% respectively.

Pupils were also asked questions around life satisfaction, happiness, and anxiety, with low levels of life satisfaction experienced by 57% of young people who had recently smoked, drank alcohol and taken drugs.

This then compared to 35% who had recently done just one of these things, and 18% who had not recently smoked, drank or taken drugs, analysis found.

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