E-cigarette: The key to quitting smoking, or a pathway to it?

June 22, 2016

The number of people in the UK who have used e-cigarettes has almost doubled in just 2 years, according to a new Europe wide study.

The research, published in the journal Tobacco Control, was conducted by scientists at Imperial College London and examined e-cigarette use - and attitudes to the devices - across the European Union between 2012 and 2014.

Throughout Europe the average number of people who had tried an e-cigarette increased by 60 per cent between 2012 and 2014, from 7.2 to 11.6 per cent. The proportion of people in the UK who had used an e-cigarette was significantly higher than the European average, having increased from 8.9 per cent to 15.5 per cent.

The research also showed the proportion of people across Europe who considered the devices dangerous had also nearly doubled, from 27 per cent to 51 per cent.

Data from 53,000 people in the EU (at least 1000 from each country) showed that France had the highest e-cigarette use, with one in five saying they had used them. France also saw the largest rise in the proportion of people who had tried an e-cigarette - nearly tripling from 7.3 per cent in 2012 to 21.3 per cent in 2014. Portugal was the country with the lowest number of people who had tried e-cigarettes, with 5.7 per cent.

The reason for the variation between nations is unknown, though possible reasons include the differences in the number of cigarette smokers, the types of smoking bans that exist in different countries, and also the levels of advertising for the devices.

Dr Filippos Filippidis, lead author of the research from the School of Public Health at Imperial said: "This research shows e-cigarettes are becoming very popular across Europe - with more than one in ten people in Europe now having tried one of the devices. However there is debate about the risks and benefits associated with e-cigarettes. For instance we don't know whether we may start to see diseases emerge in 10-20 years' time associated with some of the ingredients. We urgently need more research into the devices so that we can answer these questions."
Most of the people who had tried e-cigarettes were former or current smokers, though the number of people who had never smoked cigarettes, yet had tried e-cigarettes, had also increased from 2012 to 2014.
Dr Filippidis added: "Although this data shows most of the people who use e-cigarettes are current or former smokers - which suggests the devices may be helping some of them quit smoking - it is worrying that some people who have never smoked are using them. This raises the question of whether they could be a 'gateway' to smoking conventional cigarettes."
The research also found that being in the age range 18-24, living in a town or city, and being more highly educated were linked to increased odds of ever having tried an e-cigarette.

If you are attempting to quit smoking, check out our post on 10 tips to help you quit.

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