A tenth of secondary school pupils in England use e-cigarettes but the proportion smoking traditional cigarettes has plummeted to its lowest ever level, official figures show.
NHS Digital, which quizzed nearly 10,000 students aged 11 to 15 last year, found that nine per cent currently vape — the highest rate logged since the survey began in 2014.
Girls appear to be driving the trend, with the vape rate doubling among them in the last three years, while it has remained flat among boys for five years.
Experts have blamed the rise on social media, where videos showing off vape smoke tricks have racked up tens of millions of views. A Government-funded report this year found that almost half of users had watched vape videos on TikTok, Instagram or Snapchat.
While the e-cigarette rate has soared — jumping 50 per cent in three years — the proportion lighting up traditional cigarettes has flatlined. One in 33 pupils now smoke tobacco, compared to a peak of one in four in the 1990s.
NHS Digital, which quizzed nearly 10,000 students aged 11 to 15 last year, found that nine per cent currently vape — the highest rate logged since the survey began in 2014. Girls appear to be driving the trend, with the vape rate doubling among them in the last three years, while it has remained flat among boys for five years
WHAT IS VAPING?
Vape pens are devices that heat a liquid into an aerosol that the user inhales.
The liquid usually has nicotine and flavoring in it, and other additives.
The nicotine in e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes is addictive.
E-cigarettes are considered tobacco products because most of them contain nicotine, which comes from tobacco.
Besides nicotine, e-cigarettes can contain harmful and potentially harmful ingredients, including:
- ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs
- flavorants such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious lung disease
- volatile organic compounds
- heavy metals, such as nickel, tin, and lead
Nicotine exposure during childhood and young adulthood can cause addiction and harm the developing brain.
NHS Digital quizzed around 9,000 pupils in years 7 to 11 on their smoking, drinking and drug use between September 2020 and July 2021.
Results show that 10 per cent of girls and 7 per cent of boys are current e-cigarette users.
Uptake among boys has been flat since 2016. But the rate has doubled among girls in just three years — from one in 20 to one in 10 — while the proportion who are regular users has increased five-fold.
The rate rises sharply among older pupils. Among 15-year-olds, one in five girls and one in seven boys vape, compared to one in 100 boys and girls aged 11.
However, the proportion of all students who have ever tried vaping has dropped from a 25 per cent in 2018 to 22 per cent in 2021.
Around three-quarters of current vapers are also regular or occasional smokers, while more than half are ex-smokers. Only three per cent of e-cigarette users have never smoked.
Friends (45 per cent), newsagents (41 per cent) and relatives (35 per cent) are the most likely sources of e-cigarettes for students.
The sharpest rise in where people are sourcing their vapes was at newsagents — up five-fold since 2018 — followed by street markets and petrol station shops.
Meanwhile, the proportion of pupils who said they were smokers declined from 5 per cent in 2018 to 3 per cent in 2021.
And 12 per cent reported having ever smoked, a decrease from 16 per cent in 2018.
Some 6 per cent of pupils said they usually drank alcohol at least once a week, which is unchanged between the two surveys.
In 2021, 40 per cent of pupils said they had ever had an alcoholic drink, compared with 44 per cent in 2018. And just over a third of pupils said that they drank alcohol at least a few times a year.
Older pupils were more likely to report they had been drunk in the last month compared with almost no 11-year-olds.
Among the small number who said they are current drinkers, pupils were more likely to report drinking at home compared with 2018, and two thirds said they usually drank with their parents.
Meanwhile, 18 per cent of pupils reported having ever taken drugs, down from 24 per cent in 2018.
Cannabis is the drug pupils were most likely to have taken, with 6 per cent saying they had taken it in 2021, down from 8 per cent in 2018.
Those reporting taking Class A drugs has remained at about 2 to 3 per cent since 2010.
The survey also asked children about their wellbeing, life satisfaction, happiness, and anxiety.
Girls reported lower measures of wellbeing compared with boys.
Almost half (46 per cent) of 15-year-old girls reported a low level of happiness, and 51 per cent reported a high level of anxiety on the previous day.
More than half (57 per cent) of young people who had recently smoked, drunk alcohol and taken drugs reported low levels of life satisfaction compared with 35 per cent who had recently done just one of these things, and 18 per cent who had not recently smoked, drunk or taken drugs.