Young People and E-Cigarettes in Scotland: A Survey of Secondary School Pupils

Reports on the findings of a survey in late 2014 with Scottish secondary pupils about e-cigarettes.

Executive Summary

In late 2014, the Scottish Government commissioned a survey with a representative sample of secondary school pupils to gather data on: their experiences of e-cigarettes in their environment; the degree to which adolescents are exposed to the marketing and promotion of e-cigarettes; and their knowledge and attitudes in relation to e-cigarettes. The survey provides valuable baseline information on the place of e-cigarettes in the lives of secondary school pupils in Scotland.

Awareness of e-cigarettes is almost universal across secondary school pupils in Scotland and many know family members and friends who use e-cigarettes. In line with other surveys in Scotland and other parts of the UK, the vast majority (81%) of pupils have never tried an e-cigarette. Of the 16% of the sample who had ever used them the majority of this group (81%) had tried them just 'once or twice'. Current use (defined as at least once a month) was reported by 3%.

In common with other surveys of adults, young people and children, most pupils who use or try e-cigarettes are also tobacco smokers: 5% of pupils who had never smoked had ever tried e-cigarettes and the more tobacco cigarettes a pupil smoked the more likely they were to have ever used an e-cigarette. Current use was largely confined to pupils who also currently smoke tobacco. A very small proportion of the small group who had ever used both e-cigarettes and conventional tobacco had tried an e-cigarette first.

Most of those who had tried an e-cigarette had, on their first use, been given it by someone they knew, usually a friend or someone with whom they were hanging out. Curiosity was the main driver for their first use, sometimes motivated by seeing a friend or family member using an e-cigarette.

In the past week, most pupils had been exposed to some form of e-cigarette marketing and promotion, including in-store displays for sale and in broadcast, online and print media. When asked whether e-cigarettes adverts make using them look cool, 61% disagreed, 11% agreed and the remainder either said they did not know or neither agreed nor disagreed.

Four questions to gauge their knowledge and understanding elicited a rate of 22-30% of "don't' know" responses, suggesting a high degree of uncertainty and a lack of knowledge about the products. Two-thirds knew that e-cigarettes can contain nicotine and 70% correctly thought that they are less harmful than tobacco. The other two questions (on whether e-cigarettes are addictive and whether they are harmful to health) were more ambiguous in terms of current evidence so the fact that 30% did not know how to answer is unsurprising. While a clear majority (87%) do not think that smoking is "cool", pupils were less sure about whether using e-cigarettes is "fun": 18% did not know and 64% disagreed.


Email: Fiona Macdonald

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