A report investigating the growing popularity of e-cigarettes among young people in Ireland was carried and prepared for on behalf of the HSE Tobacco Control Operational Unit. The report can be found below, along with a background to it and a statement from Dr. Patrick Doorley, chair of ASH Ireland, Council of the Irish Heart Foundation.
With the growth in popularity of e-cigarettes in recent years, there is concern in terms of their use by young people. In Ireland, there is no mandatory age restriction on the sale of e-cigarettes and their marketing may promote adolescent use. Nicotine exposure can harm adolescent brain development, and may act as a ‘gateway’ to smoking initiation among the youth. The study aimed to obtain an in-depth understanding of current knowledge, attitudes and behaviour of schoolchildren in terms of e-cigarette use.
Eight focus groups were undertaken in a convenience sample of three schools. This included an all-boy (Cavan), an all-girl (Sligo), and a mixed gender (Louth) school. Each focus group discussed vaping among schoolchildren in Ireland, attitudes to e-cigarettes/vaping, the accessibility and availability of e-cigarette products, the health effects of vaping, and the combined use of vaping, smoking and alcohol. All focus groups were audio recorded and transcribed, from which a number of key themes were identified.
Statement from Dr. Patrick Doorley, chair of ASH Ireland, Council of the Irish Heart Foundation
Vaping is less harmful than smoking but still not safe . E-cigarettes contain thousands of chemicals many of which are toxic, but there are not many programmes which educate children about the their harmful effects. While e-cigarettes may assist hardened smokers to quit, recent reports, such as this focus group which indicate an increased use of these devices among young people in Ireland is exceptionally alarming, particularly as they have been found to be a gateway to traditional smoking.
Therefore, to protect young people from taking up e-cigarettes and transitioning to smoking, it is imperative that the government introduce all measures that will protect adolescents from taking it up.
This focus group study among schoolchildren indicated that e-cigarettes are popular among Irish schoolchildren but there is a lack of information about e-cigarettes from school education programmes. This must be remedied as young people will make the right decision based on their health when provided the right information.
Unsurprising e-cigarettes are used in a number of different settings, particularly in under age discos. Peer pressure in social settings such as these drives take-up of harmful habits such as e-cigarettes, smoking, and drinking alcohol. Clearly devious tactics on social media by these e-cigarette companies, many of them owed by traditional tobacco companies, have marketed these products to young people as cool must-have devices, without highlighting the addictive or health-harming consequences.
Sweet and fruity flavours are among the most popular and are relatively easy to access through social media and other channels.
While most participants had discussed smoking with their parents,there was a lack of awareness of the warning labels concerning e cigarettes. Tobacco cigarettes remain more popular than e cigarettes, particularly at discos and alcohol consumption may be a contributory factor in the decision to experiment
In light of these alarming trends, the report recommends the following measures, which ASH Ireland, Council of the Irish Heart Foundation fully support.
- Legislation on e-cigarette sales should be fast tracked by the Department of Health and a comprehensive plan to prevent initiation of e cigarette use by children developed.
- Government should develop a regulatory system to oversee and control online sales of tobacco and e cigarettes.
- Restrictions in terms of product placement, accessibility and visibility at the point of sale is recommended.
- There should be mandatory e-cigarette warnings in outlets selling e-cigarettes
- There should be restrictions on flavours which are attractive to children.
- There should be better communication on the effects of e-cigarettes and the impact of those communications should be evaluated.
- Anti-smoking education programmes should be incorporated into the school curriculum which should include up to date information on the adverse health effects.
- The governance of underage discos should be reviewed.