Social media sites like TikTok must do more to tackle the “glamourous promotion” of vaping, experts have said after latest figures showed that the number of children using vapes has almost doubled in two years.
The YouGov survey, which quizzed just over 2,600 children and young people, found that the number of children aged over 11 using e-cigarettes has jumped from 4% in 2020 to 7% this year.
The findings also show a significant rise in the habit amongst older teens and young adults in the last decade – the rate among 16 and 17-year-olds has shot up from 7% to 29%, while for 18-year-olds, there has been a huge jump from 9% to 41%.
Now health experts have called for more to be done to stop videos which “glamourise” vaping from appearing on social media sites, after the survey revealed that half of those using e-cigarettes had watched vape videos on TikTok, Snapchat or Instagram.
Deborah Arnott is chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), which carried out the survey in conjunction with the Department of Health. She said: “Online platforms don’t need to wait, they must act now.
“The flood of glamourous promotion of vaping on social media, in particular TikTok, is completely inappropriate and they should turn off the tap.”
She went on to say: “The disposable vapes that have surged in popularity over the last year are brightly coloured, pocket-size products with sweet flavours and sweet names.
“They are widely available for under a fiver – no wonder they’re attractive to children.”
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Experts are also concerned about the latest disposable vapes – ‘puff bars’ – which contain nicotine, harmful particles and chemical flavourings that have been associated with lung disease.
They say action needs to be taken to prevent underage sales and the promotion of vaping on social media sites, and to tackle ‘child-friendly’ packaging.
Ann McNeill, Professor of Tobacco Addiction at King’s College London, said: “The rise in vaping is concerning and we need to understand what lies behind this such as packaging, accessibility, taste or addictiveness.
“Our response must be proportionate given smoking is a much bigger risk to the health of young people and good evidence that e-cigarettes can be an effective stop smoking aid.
“Government should ensure existing laws are enforced and identify where regulations could be extended. However, this must be done alongside securing a much quicker decline in young people taking up smoking and helping more smokers to stop.”
A spokeswoman for TikTok said: “Regardless of a user’s age, we strictly prohibit content that depicts or promotes the sale, trade or offer of tobacco, including vaping products, and we will remove any content found to be violating our community guidelines.
“We also do not recommend content that shows or promotes tobacco products in TikTok users’ feeds.”
A Snapchat spokesperson said: “Using Snapchat to buy or sell vaping products is strictly against our rules.
“You cannot search for terms associated with vaping, and we remove violating content and accounts when we discover it through our safety tools, or through our in-app reporting tools.”