Does Scotland Have a Teen Vaping Problem?

Anti-smoking charity ASH Scotland is urging local ministers to do more to protect teens from vaping, following reports saying that vaping by 15-year-olds had tripled in the last five years.

The Scottish government Health and Wellbeing Census surveyed 25,380 pupils in S2 and S4. The compiled data indicated that 10.1% of S4 students, aged around 15 years old, and 4.3% of S2 students, around 13 years old, reported vaping once a week or more. ASH said that these findings should inform the local Tobacco Action Plan.

ASH Scotland’s chief executive Sheila Duffy, said that vapes are not only highly addictive but also that many contain unregulated dangerous e-liquids. “Promoting novel products such as recreational e-cigarettes is one way in which the tobacco industry is reaching out to future generations of potential consumers. It is an issue that needs to be tackled by the Scottish government as a matter of urgency,” she added. The charity said that regular e-cigarette use by 13-year-olds had more than doubled in the last five years.

In 2022, the Highland Council which is the council area in the Scottish Highlands and the largest local government area in the UK, had seized “well over” 3,000 products from shops in the area over 12 months. Officers from Trading Standards were issuing £200 fixed penalty notices to those caught stocking illicit vape products.

Smoking rates have dropped
Meanwhile, the latest NHS Stop Smoking Services Scotland report, which includes data between April 2021 and March 2022, reported there were 31,359 people who attempted to quit smoking. This equates to about a significant 17,000 less than the 48,749 smokers who tried quitting between 2019 and 2020.
Released by Public Health Scotland, the findings mark the 10th consecutive year in which the number of people quitting has decreased. Ash Scotland said that the number of quit smoking attempts has dropped by more than one-third compared to the previous year.

Back 2017, the Scottish government had announced setting in place a tobacco plan in order to become “smoke-free” by 2034. At the time, the University of Edinburgh and NHS Health Scotland had carried out an inquiry to determine whether efforts to reduce smoking were being effective. This had indicated that while the local tobacco control strategy was working, smoking continued to be a problem amongst low income communities.

“The evidence shows the positive impact of tobacco policy, ranging from the display ban which put tobacco out of sight in small shops and supermarkets to the introduction on smoke free NHS grounds,” said Dr Garth Reid, principal public health adviser at NHS Health Scotland at the time.

Smoking rates remain higher in deprived areas
Garth had added that levels of smoking are still highest in Scotland’s most deprived areas, with 35% of people living in such areas being smokers, when compared to the 10% in more affluent areas. He added that it is clear that further action to reduce inequalities in smoking is necessary.

To this effect, many vape advocates had urged authorities to consider the use of vaping products as smoking cessation tools, however Donald Cameron MSP, the Scottish Conservative health spokesman, had stressed the importance of implementing a reliable process to determine the potential benefits of e-cigarettes. This must be based on data, science, and research. “We all know there are conflicting accounts,” he told the roundtable.

While a 2021 round table event organized by Holyrood and the Scottish Grocers’ Federation (SGF), had discussed the role of vaping products in reducing tobacco harm. The federation’s head of policy and public affairs, John Lee, had voiced his concern about the vape market being restricted instead of endorsed as part of a national smoking cessation strategy.