Health: Ads on TikTok and Instagram ‘behind rising vaping among children’

A woman vaping

Vaping is becoming increasingly popular among younger people (Picture: Getty)

TikTok and Instagram are behind the surge in the number of kids vaping in the UK, a new report says.

Newer disposable e-cigarettes are gaining popularity among Gen-Zs who are exposed to ads on such social media apps.

They cost around £5 each and come in a wide range of fruity flavors rather than an ashy taste and smell. They attract a much younger audience, influenced by what they’ve seen while scrolling the web.

According to the survey, conducted for Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and funded in part by the Department of Health, approximately 52% of under-18s who vape said disposable e-cigarettes were their preferred product.

This represents a dramatic increase from the 7% who said the same thing in 2020.

Deborah Arnott, Managing Director of ASH, said: “The disposable vapes that have surged in popularity over the last year are colorful, pocket-sized products with sweet flavors and sweet names.

“They’re available everywhere for less than five euros – no wonder they’re attractive to children.”

Vaping Products

The percentage of kids who have ever tried vaping has increased this year (Image: PA)

Vaping is a growing phenomenon – and is marketed as a “healthy alternative to tobacco”.

While it’s illegal to sell the product to under-18s, social media posts are circulating from teenagers showing off the new vapes and discussing the flavors.

Containing pink lemonade, strawberry banana and mango, they look way cooler than a packet of loose tobacco with a crumbling lung on it.

Ms Arnott said more resources are needed to enforce the underage sales law and action is needed on child-friendly packaging and labeling and social media advertising.

“Online platforms don’t have to wait, they have to act now,” she emphasized.

“The flood of glamorous promotions for vaping on social media, especially TikTok, is totally inappropriate and they should shut the tap.”

2,613 children took part in the survey conducted by YouGov in March.

Overall results showed that most (84%) of 11-17 year olds had never tried e-cigarettes, although “regular use of e-cigarettes has increased significantly”.

The vast majority of current vapers are also smokers or ex-smokers, so this is not a new experience for them.

But data shows that the percentage of kids in this age group who are currently vaping has increased from 4% in 2020 to 7% in 2022.

The proportion of those who have ever tried vaping has also increased, from 14% in 2020 to 16% in 2022.

For the first time this year, the survey asked young people about their level of awareness of product advertising.

More than half (56%) of 11-17 year olds had encountered it, with awareness being highest among those who had vaped (72%).

TikTok was the most cited source – cited by 45% of children – followed by Instagram (31%) and Snapchat (22%).

Underage vapers were most likely to buy their vapes in stores (47%), while 10% bought them online.

Ann McNeill, Professor of Tobacco Addiction at King’s College London and author of a forthcoming government review of the evidence on e-cigarettes, said: “The rise in vaping is worrying and we need to understand what’s behind it, such as packaging, accessibility, taste or… addictive behavior.

“Our response needs to be proportionate as smoking poses a much greater risk to young people’s health and is good evidence that e-cigarettes can be an effective tool to quit smoking.

“Government should ensure existing laws are enforced and identify where regulations could be expanded.

“However, this must be achieved at the same time as ensuring a much faster decline in the number of young people taking up smoking and helping more smokers to quit.”

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Justin Scacco

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