Government survey shows number of children trying smoking continues to decline and very few children regularly using electronic cigarettes

Thursday 23 July 2015

The number of children who have ever tried smoking continues to decline from 22% of 11-15 year olds surveyed in 2013 to 18% in 2014. The latest data from the England-wide school survey on smoking, drinking and drug use [1] has shown that only one percent of children aged 11-15 reported regular use of electronic cigarettes. Electronic cigarette use is strongly linked to smoking behaviour with nine out of ten regular smokers reporting having tried electronic cigarettes compared to only one in ten never smokers. The questions on electronic -cigarettes were asked for the first time in 2014 and the results are consistent with other surveys, for example the Health Survey for England, the Scottish SALSUS survey and ASH data, which all showed very low regular use of electronic cigarettes among children. [2, 3, 4]

Regular smoking among 15-year olds is 8% – well below the Government target of 12% by 2015, set in the Tobacco Control Plan for England published in March 2011. [5] And occasional smoking by 15-year olds has halved from 10% in 2013 to 5% in 2014. It is clear that experimentation with electronic cigarettes is not currently proving to be a gateway to smoking amongst young people, although it is important to keep monitoring this over time.

Nearly two thirds of children reported having been exposed to secondhand smoke in the last year either in someone’s home (including their own) or in a car. This demonstrates the importance of the new regulations to prohibit smoking in cars with children and the need to educate the public about the harms caused by secondhand smoke in the home.

The Smoking Drinking & Drug use survey has an impressive track record of measuring smoking and other substance use amongst young people for over 30 years. Such data is vital in policy development and evaluation. It is therefore of great concern that the survey is not being run this year and its future remains in doubt.

Commenting on the findings, Deborah Arnott chief executive of health charity ASH said:

“These results are entirely consistent with other British surveys showing that regular use of e-cigarettes among teenagers is tiny and is confined to those who are already regular smokers. They do not support the idea that experimentation with electronic cigarettes is a gateway into smoking as the number of young people trying smoking continues to decline year on year.

The results of this survey are invaluable. It’s very worrying that the survey was cancelled in 2015 and we call on the government to reinstate it from 2016 onwards.”


Notes and Links:

[1] Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England in 2014. Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).

[2] Health Survey for England, 2013.

[3] Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance Use Survey (SALSUS) 2013

[4] Use of electronic cigarettes among children in Great Britain. ASH fact sheet

[5] Tobacco Control Plan for England, HM Government, March 2011.