MORE than half of e-cigarette users aged between 11 and 16 have never smoked a real cigarette, Coventry University research suggests.
Academics at the university say new figures show a worrying potential rise in the number of young people who may be trying vaping to experiment without knowing the risks.
The study also raises concerns that e-cigarettes may be acting as a ‘gateway’ to smoking cigarettes for some youngsters.
Researchers say only 40 per cent of the youngsters questioned as part of the study realised e-cigarettes contained nicotine, and only 30 per cent understood they were addictive.
The university has called for better education about e-cigarettes, the risks to health and of addiction.
Lead researcher Dr Emmie Fulton, of the Centre for Advances in Behavioural Sciences, who works with Public Health Warwickshire, said: “The proportion of young people who are experimenting with e-cigarettes but have never used tobacco may be growing, and if so, this is worrying.
“The young people we sampled may use e-cigarettes because they are easier to access than tobacco, and would have gone on to smoke regardless; however they may also represent a group of young people who have no intention of trying cigarettes but could be becoming addicted to nicotine accidentally.
“There’s the potential that this could act as a gateway to smoking and tobacco use for a proportion of the population who would otherwise have remained non-nicotine users.
“This study may be small-scale, but its findings show that more education and research is needed in this area.”
The study is part of a wider research project about young people’s attitudes towards smoking and saw 499 school pupils complete a questionnaire about their own knowledge and experience of smoking.
Some 11.4 per cent (57 young people) said they had tried e-cigarettes at some point, with 52.6 per cent of these (30 young people) admitting they had never smoked other cigarettes or used other forms of tobacco.
The Coventry study, published in the journal Public Health, also found just under 40 per cent of participants were unsure or did not believe that e-cigarettes were better for health than normal cigarettes.
There is an intense international debate surrounding the use of e-cigarettes, with many experts saying they can be beneficial to help people stop smoking.
But there are concerns about their use by people who have never previously smoked and fears they could prompt people to take up smoking.