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Adverts for e-cigarettes and their impact on teenagers´ attitudes to smoking

Although e-cigarettes may be helpful for people who want to stop smoking, there is a worry that they might increase the appeal for teenagers to start smoking, both e-cigarettes and real tobacco cigarettes.

E-cigarettes were primarily introduced to help people stop smoking ‘normal’ tobacco cigarettes. E-cigarettes are electronic cigarettes that contain nicotine that can be inhaled by heating that creates a vapour. ‘Normal’ tobacco cigarettes are lit and burn and the nicotine is inhaled with the smoke that comes from burning the cigarette. There are some potentially harmful chemicals in the vapour from e-cigarettes too, but at much lower levels than the harmful chemicals that are found in cigarette smoke.

Although e-cigarettes may be helpful for people who want to stop smoking, there is a worry that they might increase the appeal for teenagers to start smoking, both e-cigarettes and real tobacco cigarettes. Particularly as there is a large number of candy-like flavoured e-cigarettes (such as milk chocolate and bubble gum flavours) on the market, there is a concern about their influence on children and teenagers.

So naturally, there are various research going on to investigate different aspects of this topic. A study that was recently published in the journal Tobacco Control aimed to see whether exposing children to different types of e-cigarette adverts influenced the appeal of tobacco smoking. They did research with 471 children in the UK, aged 11 – 16 years old. The children were split into three groups. One group was shown adverts for flavoured e-cigarettes, the second group was shown adverts for non-flavoured e-cigarettes and the third group (called the control group) was not shown any adverts at all for any kind of cigarettes.

The researchers asked all the children in the study about their attitudes to smoking, their opinions on how harmful smoking is and how likely it was that they would smoke themselves. Then they asked various questions to the two ‘advert groups’ about the e-cigarette adverts such as how they liked them and whether the adverts made them want to buy or try e-cigarettes.

The researchers found that regardless of whether the study participants (the children in the study) had been shown any adverts or not, it didn’t have anything to do with what they thought about smoking real cigarettes, how harmful they thought they were of how likely it was that they might try smoking tobacco in the future. So in a sense that’s good news.

But the researchers did find that those who had been shown adverts for flavoured e-cigarettes rated them as much more appealing than the ratings from the group who has been shown adverts for non-flavoured e-cigarettes. And more importantly, the children who had been watching adverts of flavoured e-cigarettes were more interested in going out and buy e-cigarettes than the children who had been watching adverts of non-flavoured e-cigarettes.

It’s worth noting that this research didn’t check whether children did in fact go out to buy e-cigarettes so the research can only say that they were more motivated or interested in doing so after having watched adverts of flavoured e-cigarettes.

So we still don’t know enough about this topic and there is more research to be done. But the study confirmed a worry that adverts for flavoured e-cigarettes might perhaps ‘lure’ children and teens into trying them and thereby be exposed to nicotine, which of course is an addictive substance.

You can read more about this study on the NHS Choices website.

For those of you who may want to find out about quitting smoking, have a look at NHS Choices’ “Under-18s guide to quitting smoking”.

This article was first published : 24.2.2016

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