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E-cigarette adverts could encourage children to take up tobacco, warn Cambridge scientists

Adverts for e-cigarettes may encourage more children to experiment with tobacco smoking, Cambridge scientists have warned.

A team from Cambridge University found children exposed to adverts for ‘vaping’ are more likely to believe occasional smoking poses no risk to their health.

Working with colleagues from the University of North Carolina, they recruited more than 400 English children aged 11 to 16, who have never smoked or vaped before.

One group was shown adverts depicting e-cigarettes as glamorous, a second was shown adverts that portrayed them as healthy, and a third control group was shown no adverts.

Those shown the adverts were no more or no less likely than the control group to perceive tobacco smoking as appealing, and all three groups understood smoking more than 10 cigarettes a day was harmful.

However, the groups exposed to the adverts, both healthy and glamorous, were less likely to believe smoking one or two tobacco cigarettes occasionally was harmful.

There is concern the increasing exposure of children to e-cigarette adverts could be contributing to high rates of experimentation.

Dr Milica Vasiljevic from Cambridge’s from the Department of Public Health and Primary Care, said: “This is worrying, as we know even occasional tobacco smoking is bad for your health, and young people who smoke occasionally believe they are somehow immune to its effects and do not feel the need to quit.”

The group shown the ‘glamorous’ adverts also believed e-cigarette vaping to be more prevalent than the other two groups did.

Researchers also highlighted a 2014 study that showed more children aged 11 to 15 experimented with e-cigarettes than tobacco (22 per cent compared with 18 per cent).

Professor Theresa Marteau, director of Cambridge’s Behaviour and Health Research Unit, said: “E-cigarette marketing across Europe is regulated under the new EU Tobacco Products Directive, which came into effect on May 20 this year.

“The directive limits the exposure of children to TV and newspaper e-cigarette adverts.

“However, it does not cover advertising in the form of posters, leaflets, and adverts at point of sale, nor does it cover the content of marketing materials depicting e-cigarettes as glamorous or healthy.

“The findings from our study suggest these omissions could present a threat to the health of children.”

The research, funded by the Department of Health, was published in the journal Tobacco Control.

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