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Number of people using e-cigarettes DOUBLES in just two years with 1 in 10 Europeans saying they’ve tried one

Proportion of people who have tried on in UK increased from 8.9 – 15.5%
Country with highest use was France while Portugal had lowest uptake
Debate over health risks with some worrying it acts as ‘gateway’ drug
Authors and charities say it should be promoted as smoking substitute

The number of people who have tried e-cigarettes almost doubled in two years, a major study has found.

Nearly one in six people in the UK have now used the devices – 15.5 per cent, up from 8.9 per cent two years earlier.

Doctors back e-cigarettes as an effective method of quitting smoking, with the NHS cleared this year to prescribe the devices for the first time.

But researchers at Imperial College London are worried that many of the people who try ‘vaping’ are non-smokers.

Although experts agree that e-cigarettes are far safer than smoking tobacco, some are concerned that they are also used as a fashionable ‘lifestyle’ habit for people who have never smoked.

They warn that these devices may even lead some people to take up smoking cigarettes – the so-called ‘gateway’ effect.

And they are concerned that we do not yet know enough about the long-term dangers of using the devices.

Lead author Dr Filippos Filippidis from the School of Public Health at Imperial said: ‘This research shows e-cigarettes are becoming very popular across Europe – with more than one in ten people in Europe now having tried one of the devices.

However there is debate about the risks and benefits associated with e-cigarettes.

‘For instance we don’t know whether we may start to see diseases emerge in 10 to 20 years’ time associated with some of the ingredients.

‘We urgently need more research into the devices so that we can answer these questions.’

His team examined the use of the devices across the European Union between 2012 and 2014.

The team, whose work is published in the medical journal Tobacco Control, found that in the UK the proportion of people who had tried an electronic cigarette was higher than the European average.

In Britain in 2012 the rate was 8.9 per cent compared to 7.2 per cent in the rest of the EU. By 2014 it had increased to 15.5 per cent in Britain, compared to 11.6 per cent elsewhere.

Dr Filippidis added: ‘Although this data shows most of the people who use e-cigarettes are current or former smokers – which suggests the devices may be helping some of them quit smoking – it is worrying that some people who have never smoked are using them.

‘This raises the question of whether they could be a “gateway” to smoking conventional cigarettes.’

Television and radio adverts for e-cigarettes were last week banned, in a bid to cut down the degree to which they are used by non-smokers.

The EU directive warned that e-cigarettes ‘mimic’ and ‘normalise’ the act of smoking, adding: ‘For this reason, it is appropriate to adopt a restrictive approach to advertising electronic cigarettes and refill containers.’

The new study used data from 53,000 people in the EU. They found that the country with the highest e-cigarette use was France, with one in five people saying they had tried them.

The nation with lowest number of people who had tried an e-cigarette was Portugal.

The research also showed the proportion of people across the EU who considered e-cigarettes dangerous had also nearly doubled, from 27 per cent to 51 per cent.

The authors wrote: ‘This analysis of the most up-to-date data from the whole of the EU shows that although perceptions that e-cigarettes are harmful are increasing, levels of those who ever use them are also increasing.’

Scientists and health policy experts are divided over e-cigarettes.

A recent report by the Royal College of Physicians concluded that e-cigarettes are likely to benefit the health of the nation.

The report’s authors suggested that e-cigarettes should be widely promoted as a substitute for smoking.

Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: ‘We know that many people are using e-cigarettes to help them quit the much more harmful practice of smoking, including people with lung conditions.

‘For them, quitting tobacco is often the single most important thing they can do to turn their health around.

‘We therefore support calls for more research into vaping, we need to be clear on whether e-cigarettes are a safe way of helping them quit.’

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