Vaping, for teens, has become “a pathway into, rather than out of, nicotine addiction”, an expert has warned.
The caution comes after a new study suggests a significant number of teens are trying vaping have never smoked.
Researchers from Tobacco Free Research Institute Ireland said the proportion of 16- and 17-year-olds who had tried e-cigarettes rose from 23% in 2014 to 39% in 2019.
The 39% of teens who said they had tried e-cigarettes compares to 32% who had tried smoking.
And 68% of those who had tried e-cigarettes said they had never tried smoking.
The main reasons given by teenagers for trying e-cigarettes were curiosity (66%) and because their friends were vaping (29%), according to figures from thousands of teenagers.
Only 3% said it was to quit smoking.
Meanwhile, researchers said young people whose parents are smokers are 55% more likely to try e-cigarettes.
4.3million Britons now use e-cigarettes – but 350,000 of them have never smoked
The new research, presented at the European Respiratory Society’s International Congress in Barcelona, Spain, also found that these young people were 51% more likely to have tried smoking.
Professor Luke Clancy, Chief Executive of the Institute, said: “We have seen an increasing use of e-cigarettes among Irish teenagers and this is a trend emerging elsewhere in the world.
“There is a perception that vaping is a better alternative to smoking, but our research shows that this does not apply to teenagers who generally have not tried cigarettes before e-cigarettes.
“This indicates that, for teens, vaping is a pathway into nicotine addiction, rather than out of it.”
Lead researcher Dr Joan Hanafin added: “We can see that the number of teenagers using e-cigarettes is changing rapidly, so we need to continue to monitor the situation in Ireland and around the world.
“We also plan to study social media to understand how it influences the vaping behavior of girls and boys.”
Commenting on the study, Professor Jonathan Grigg, Chair of the European Respiratory Society’s Tobacco Control Committee, said: “These findings are worrying, not just for teenagers in Ireland, but for families around the world. “
Earlier this year, a separate report by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) concluded that the proportion of children vaping is on the rise, with many influenced by social media sites such as TikTok.
While it is illegal to sell vapes to those under 18, the proportion of children aged 11-17 who currently vape has risen from 4% in 2020 to 7% in 2022.