Underage Vaping in the UK - The Reality

Underage Vaping in the UK - The Reality

Vaping has seen a massive surge in popularity in the UK, particularly in the last five years with more and more smokers making the switch to the less harmful alternative. While overall this is a positive change for public health, there have been concerns surrounding if (and how) this will affect underage use of e-cigarettes. The fact that vaping has really only become mainstream in relatively recent times, government regulators and retailers have had to adapt quickly to do their best to ensure e-cigarettes stay out of underage hands. There’s a lot of information around regarding teenage use, so we’re taking a closer look at the who, why and where as well as looking at how we need to update regulations going forward.

What are the current patterns we can see in underage use?

ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) have been monitoring underage use of both cigarettes and e-cigarettes since 2013. While vaping has been around since 2005, it wasn’t particularly widely available or popular until 2012 and since then we’ve seen a much bigger increase in adult use. When it comes to teenage use, ASH’s findings came to a few key conclusions:

As far as vaping awareness goes, an overwhelming majority of 77.7% of teenagers surveyed had never tried vaping at all and 10.5% aren’t even aware.

The number of teenagers who have tried vaping has remained relatively consistent, despite their increasing popularity amongst adults. In 2015, 11.6% of 11-17 year olds had tried vaping, with a peak in 2020 of 13.9%, followed by a drop in 2021 to 11.2%.

Those who had tried vaping were more likely to be in their late teens, with first time use far less common in those under the age of 16.

Even amongst those at the legal vaping age (18 years old) around 30.1% had tried an e-cigarette. 16 and 17 year olds were less likely again to have tried them, with 23.3% having used an e-cigarette at least once and use amongst 11 - 15 year olds is as low as 6.5%.

Between 2015 and 2021, there’s been an increase in weekly use from 2.4% to 4.1% amongst 11 - 18 year olds. However, more than once weekly use remains low at 1.5%.

With all of this in mind, it’s also important to note what the perception of vaping is from a teenage perspective. While vaping has been reported as 95% less harmful than smoking by Public Health England for some time now, only 43.8% of 11 to 18 year olds believe that e-cigarettes are safer than smoking. This fact may play an important role in the pathway most teenagers take when it comes to trying vaping in the first place.


Why are teens vaping and where are they getting their E-Cigarettes from?

By understanding the why (and how) teens are vaping, we can also better understand what it’ll take to discourage underage use and look at where the cracks in regulations are. While teenage use of e-cigarettes has remained relatively low, an important consideration is where they’re getting them from and why they’re trying vaping in the first place.

When surveyed by ASH, the main source teenagers were getting e-cigarettes from (as well as conventional cigarettes) was at the shops. There was also a trend showing it’s still more common for them to be getting cigarettes, with 60% getting their cigarettes from shops like off-licenses compared to 41.9% getting vapes from the same sources.

Where The Concern Comes From?

If use is still remaining fairly low in the UK, with very little regular use in 11 to 18 year olds, where is the concern coming from? Across the pond in the United States, a growing “vaping epidemic” has been a cause of major concern. However, the ways in which e-cigarettes are regulated in the US is very different from the UK.

The main catalyst behind the popularity of teen vaping in the US came from the release of the Juul. The compact pod kit revolutionised the e-cigarette market given its ease of use and high strength e-liquids. In the States, the Juul offers pods with a 50mg strength, approximately two and a half times stronger than the maximum you can purchase in the UK and EU.

The North VS. The South

One trend worth noting in the UK is the North/South divide. Whilst according to ASH regular vaping amongst teens remains relatively low, the NHS has found that e-cig use is much more prevalent in the north than the south. In Yorkshire, local councils have found small hotspots with a high concentration of teen vaping. When surveying 15 year olds, they found throughout Yorkshire and Humber, 10% vaped once a week while 12% vaped “occasionally”. This is a fairly stark contrast with London and the southeast, reporting less than 3% of 15 year olds as being regular e-cigarette users.

Vaping VS. Smoking

While there has been an increase in weekly e-cig use amongst 11 - 18 year olds (sitting at 2.4% in 2015 and 4.1% in 2021), those using e-cigs more than once a week is still as low as 1.5% in 2021. Of those teenagers surveyed by ASH who are vaping regularly, 43.5% are also current smokers and 14.1% are ex-smokers. Just 0.7% of regular e-cig users had never smoked before. This indicates there’s a distinct trend between cigarettes and vaping and that more often than not, those regular users started out with conventional cigarettes. Of the underage users trying vaping for the first time, less than a quarter (29.3%) vaped without having ever smoked a cigarette as of 2021, up from 18.3% back in 2014.

Nearly half (49.3%) of 11 to 18 year olds are trying vaping just to see what it’s like and 16.7% were motivated to try them because their friends were. Only 1.2% are motivated by the fact that they think it “looks cool” and as far as access goes, only 1.1% were motivated to use e-cigarettes because they were easier to get their hands on than cigarettes.

So, despite the overall increase in e-cigarette use in the UK, the uptake in underage users still remains low with consistent use even lower. So, while they may be giving vaping a go, it’s not becoming a habit without first having a cigarette-driven habit.

The Legal Side

As with the purchase of conventional cigarettes and alcohol, the legal age to purchase and use an e-cigarette is 18 years. Despite this, teenagers have still been able to buy e-cigarettes from a range of venues including high street shops, street markets and from online stores. 

Having laws in place to prevent underage access to nicotine-containing products is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which has to do with brain development. While physically you look and feel more or less like an adult by 18, your brain doesn’t finish developing until around 25 years of age. While your brain is still undergoing changes, it’s not only more prone to becoming addicted to nicotine but can also have that development adversely affected by nicotine too.

E-Cigarette Marketing And Loopholes In Current Regulations

While age checking should be the standard, the way in which e-cigarettes are marketed and displayed may need revising to discourage teens from seeking them out in the first place. While e-cigarettes and e-liquids currently require a nicotine warning, they all have unique branding and come in a range of colours, bottle shapes and with unique imagery. When asking about branding, 40% of teenagers expressed a preference for certain vaping products while only 32% had a preference when they had generic packaging. Perhaps similarly to the now very neutral packaging that all cigarettes have, removing or reducing the imagery and branding from vaping products may help discourage teen use.

When it comes to e-cigarettes, unlike conventional cigarettes, they don’t need to be hidden from view in shops. A study done on the impact of banning open displays showed a direct correlation between removing cigarettes from view and a decrease in youth uptake:

“Both partial and full implementation of a display ban were followed by a reduction in smoking susceptibility among adolescents, which may be driven by decreases in brand awareness.

What We Can Do To Reduce Teen Vaping?

While teenage use is relatively low, making the most of the fact it’s still a relatively novel concept is key in keeping underage use as low as possible. There’s a number of ways in which we can collectively work on reducing underage e-cigarette use. Educating teens on the risks of nicotine-containing products on young brains is one path that’s worth taking. However, teenagers will tend to experiment regardless and as such, reducing their exposure to these products is also a necessity.

Multibuy Offers

At Blackstone Labs , even the E-liquids with a higher price point are made more accessible thanks to our fantastic multibuy offers. This includes: 

3 shortfill 60ml E-liquids for £25 :- Get 3 Bottles 60ml E-liquids for just £25

3 shortfill 120ml e-liquids for £35 :- Get 3 Bottles 120ml E-liquids for just £35

Box of 10 bottles 10ml for  £25 :- Get 10 Bottles 10ml E-liquids for just £25 

Box of 5 bottles 10ml Nic salts for  £15 :- Get 5 Bottles 10ml Nic salts E-liquids for just £15


Picking your first e liquid or your next favourite isn’t hard when you know how. The best thing to do is learn a little more about E-liquid, which is where our ultimate guide to e-liquid comes in handy. You can also contact our dedicated customer service team. Available by phone, e-mail and webchat, they have the latest information on e liquids and are always happy to make recommendations based on their expert knowledge.

Related Posts
  1. Is Vaping Better Than Smoking? Is Vaping Better Than Smoking?
  2. Vaping Devices: What’s best for you? Vaping Devices: What’s best for you?
  3. Best Disposable Vape Bars Right Now! Best Disposable Vape Bars Right Now!
  4. E-Liquids Guide to VG & PG E-Liquids Guide to VG & PG
WhatsApp Chat WhatsApp Chat