Rates of smoking among teenage boys in Ireland have increased for the first time in 25 years, a new study has revealed.
It also found that rates of vaping among teenagers have increased in the last four years. Furthermore, teenagers who use e-cigarettes are more likely to smoke cigarettes.
The study was led by Prof Luke Clancy, director general of the TobaccoFree Research Institute Ireland. He pointed out that while the dangers of smoking are well known, the full effects of e-cigarettes are still unknown.
“However, we know that the nicotine they contain can cause brain damage in teenagers. There’s also a concern that they could lead to an increase in smoking,” Prof Clancy commented.
The researchers examined data on Irish teenagers contained in the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD). This is a survey of around 100,000 young people aged 15 and 16, which is conducted every four years in 35 European countries. There were 1,493 Irish teenagers involved in the 2015 survey and 1,949 in the 2019 survey.
Furthermore, Ireland was the only country to include questions about e-cigarettes in the 2015 ESPAD survey, offering a unique opportunity to monitor the trend in e-cigarette use and its effect on smoking rates in teenagers.
Overall, teen smoking rates had fallen from 41% in 1995 to just over 13% in 2015. However, the surveys showed that between 2015 and 2019, smoking rates increased among boys from 13.1% to 16.2%. During the same period, the percentage of girls who smoked remained unchanged at 12.8%.
Meanwhile, in 2015, 23% of teenagers said they had used e-cigarettes at some point, however this had increased to 37% in 2019. In 2015, 10.1% said they were currently using e-cigarettes. By 2019, this figure had reached 18.1%.
The data also reveled that teenagers who said they had used e-cigarettes at some point, or were currently using them, were 50% more likely to smoke cigarettes.
The government had previously set an aim of being ‘tobacco free’ by 2025, meaning rates of smoking should be below 5%. According to Prof Clancy, while previous research had suggested this may not be achieved in the whole population, “until now, we thought it could be achieved in teenagers”.
“That now looks very unlikely, meaning that smoking and all the death and disability that is associated with it will continue,” he commented.
Prof Clancy and his colleagues plan to continue their research into smoking and vaping among teenagers in Ireland, with a particular focus on how companies are using social media platforms to promote nicotine products to young people.
Commenting on the findings, Jonathan Grigg, chair of the European Respiratory Society Tobacco Control Committee said that any increase in teenage smoking rates “is extremely worrying because we know that cigarettes cause harm to children and young people”.
“The rise in use of e-cigarettes is also worrying. Teenagers need to know that e-cigarettes are not harmless in themselves, and this study indicates that using e-cigarettes is also linked to smoking. Governments around the world need to take notice of the increase in the use of e-cigarettes and how they are promoted so they can protect teenagers from nicotine addiction,” he noted.
Details of these findings are published in the journal, ERJ Open Research, and can be viewed here.