Teenagers who remember seeing e-cigarette displays in small shops are twice as likely to have tried vaping, Scottish scientists have found.
A major project led by Stirling University also found the number of e-cigarette displays had doubled in over a 12-month period amid a sharp increase in marketing around the products.
These displays were often located next to sweets, magazines and slush drinks, which appeal to children and young people.
Use of e-cigarettes is still poorly understood but there is growing evidence that they appeal most to people who already smoke and can help smokers to give up.
There were fears that colourful packaging and sweet flavours from e-cigarettes could make them ‘a gateway’ to smoking traditional cigarettes but most teenagers in the study had only tried vaping once or twice.
Professor Sally Haw, chair in Public and Population Health at Stirling University, said a “difficult balancing act” was needed to ensure e-cigarettes can help adults quit without creating a new generation of smokers.
She said: “In this study, the first of its kind, we did find a relationship between exposure to e-cigarettes in the retail environment and the reported use of e-cigarettes by young people.”
Analysing data from more than 3,000 Scottish students between 11 and 18-years-old, the team found those who recalled seeing vaping displays were twice as likely to have tried vaping or to plan to try it in the next six months.
Awareness of e-cigarette marketing was linked to teenagers reporting that they had tried an e-cigarette or planned to try one in the future.
Prof Haw said: “We have to keep a very close eye on the uptake of e-cigarettes among teenagers and consider that against their use as a smoking cessation aid for adults.
“It’s a very difficult balancing act. I think there should be some concern that e-cigarettes partly revitalise smoking as an activity. It is very easy to start vaping whereas smoking cigarettes takes a lot of practice.”
Ministers voted to ban under-18s from buying e-cigarettes in March but the bill does not cover marketing at the point of sale, such at a shop.
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH, said: “Given that most adolescents who reported using e-cigarettes had only tried them once or twice it’s hard to see that prohibiting ads in shops could be considered proportionate.”