Fears are growing among health experts that the rise in teenage e-cigarette users, many of whom have never smoked, will lead to long-term health problems.
According to a survey of more than 16,000 14- to 17-year-olds in the north west of England, one in five youngsters has got hold of e-cigarettes, despite the fact that 40 per cent of those teens had never smoked, or had tried but did not like it. Those who drank alcohol were significantly more likely to use the devices.
The research, which was published in the journal BMC Public Health, suggested teenagers who had access to e-cigarettes were more likely to be susceptible to other forms of substance abuse, and their addiction to nicotine could give rise to long-term health problems.
Professor Mark Bellis, from the Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University, told the Daily Telegraph: "Our research suggests that we should be very concerned about teenagers accessing e-cigarettes.
"Such rapid penetration into teenage culture of what is essentially a new drug use option is without precedent."
Professor Bellis added: "Of particular concern is our finding that teenage ex-smokers who accessed e-cigarettes were outnumbered by those who had never smoked but simply decided to experiment with what might be packaged to look like a safe, attractive product, but actually contains a highly addictive drug."
Though e-cigarettes are said to be safer than smoking, health experts have concerns about the long-term health implications of inhaling nicotine regularly, and the government plans for bring forward a ban on their sale to under-18s.
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