Enticing marketing campaigns are directly linked to young people taking up e-cigarette "vaping", a new study from the University of Stirling has found.
The spike in marketing campaigns of e-cigarettes in shops ties into increased numbers of adolescents reporting they had tried e-cigarettes or intended to try them, researchers found in a cross-sectional study involving 3,808 students between 11 and 18 years of age in four high schools in Scotland.
Greater awareness of traditional tobacco cigarette brands was also associated with having tried an e-cigarette.
"E-cigarettes are much less harmful than tobacco products and show promise as a stop smoking aid for adults. Therefore, it is reassuring that in our school survey we found that e-cigarette use is largely limited to occasional use among a small group of young people who already smoke," professor Sally Haw, chair in public and population health at Stirling University, said.
"However, in this study, the first of its kind, we did find a relationship between exposure to e-cigarettes in the retail environment and the reported use of e-cigarettes by young people."
The report, which is part of a wider series of papers in a study called DISPLAY funded by the National Institute for Health Research, also found that most adolescents in the study who reported using e-cigarettes had only tried them once and twice and were not regular users.
"It is currently unclear whether young people who plan to try e-cigarettes do so because they notice e-cigarettes at point of sale or whether they notice e-cigarettes because they intend to try them in the future. Until this association is established, we need to consider how to balance promoting the benefits of e-cigarettes for adult smokers who want to quit with the need to discourage children from experimenting with these products," Dr Catherine Best, a public health researcher on the study, said.
A Public Health England study released last August found vaping was 95 per cent less harmful than tobacco. Crucially, the report also did not establish a link between e-cigarette use becoming a "gateway" to using traditional cigarettes.
However, recent research has challenged this view, with scientists writing in the journal CHEST reporting e-cigarettes are "not safe" and that more research needs to be undertaken to determine the long-term health effects of vaping.