Summary of key findings
In March/April 2023 the proportion of children experimenting with vaping had grown by 50% year on year, from one in thirteen to one in nine. Children’s awareness of promotion of vapes has also grown, particularly in shops where more than half of all children report seeing e-cigarettes being promoted, and online where nearly a third report e-cigarette promotion. Only one in five children now say they never see vapes promoted, down from 31% last year. It is an offence to sell e-cigarettes to children under 18 in the United Kingdom and children means those aged 11-17 years old, unless otherwise specified.
Use and awareness of e-cigarettes
- In 2023 20.5% of children had tried vaping, up from 15.8% in 2022 and 13.9% in 2020 before the first COVID lockdown. The majority had only vaped once or twice (11.6%), while 7.6% were currently vaping (3.9% less than once a week, 3.6% more than once a week) and the remainder (1.3% in 2023) saying they no longer vape.
- The 50% growth in experimentation (trying once or twice) from 7.7% in 2022 to 11.6% in 2023 was significant, while the change in current vaping (from 6.9% to 7.6%) was not. [See Appendix 1 for explanation of significance].
- Since 2021 the proportion of current vaping has been greater than that of current smoking (7.6% compared to 3.6% in 2023).
- The proportion of never smokers who have tried vaping is 11.5%. However, eight out of ten children have never smoked, so this amounts to nearly half (48%) of children who have ever tried vaping. Most (62%)of those who have never smoked but have vaped have only tried once or twice, while most (70%) current vapers have also tried smoking.
- There is an age gradient both for ‘ever’ and ‘current’ vaping. Among 11-15 year olds 15% have ever tried vaping, compared to 34% of 16-17 year olds and 38% of 18 year olds. The figures for current use are 4.6% among those aged 11-15, 15% for 16-17 and 18% for 18-year-olds.
Reasons for vaping
- More than half of never smokers say they vape ‘just to give it a try’ compared to a quarter of those who have ever smoked. Around one in five ever and never smokers say ‘other people do it so I join in’ while 21% of ever smokers say they vape because they ‘like the flavours’ compared to 12% of never smokers.
- The proportion vaping ‘just to give it a try’ has gone down since last year, while saying they vape because others do has grown, while those saying ‘I like the flavours’ has remained the same.
- For the first time this year, most children wrongly believe that vaping is about the same or more harmful than smoking. This includes nearly half those who have tried vaping, so believing vaping is harmful does not appear to be putting children off trying vaping.
Main source and type of product used
- The most frequent source of vapes is shops (48%), closely followed by given (46%) and informal purchase (26%). Multiple options were allowed, and fewer than one in ten (7.6%) gave the internet as a source.
- In 2023 69% said the most frequently used device was a disposable (single use) vape, up from 52% in 2022 and 7.7% in 2021. The most popular brand was Elf Bar.
- The most popular flavours are fruit (60%), followed by sweet or soft drink (25%).
Promotion of vaping to children
- There has been a significant growth in awareness of e-cigarette promotion between 2022 and 2023 with more than half all children (53%) aware of promotion in shops, and nearly a third (32%) online. Only one in five (20%) say they never see e-cigarettes being promoted, down from 31% last year.
- Although selling vapes to children is illegal, giving them out for free is not, and it is of concern that 2.1% of children who have ever tried vaping, report that their first vape was given them by an e-cigarette company. There are wide confidence intervals so this could range between 9,000 and 38,000 children in Great Britain.
In conclusion, youth vaping is continuing to grow, as is children’s awareness of promotion. The big increase in the use of disposable products has happened concurrently with higher levels of youth use, although the survey is cross sectional and so does not prove this is causal in either direction.