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New research shows that primary school children have a good level of awareness of e-cigarettes
The report, ‘Is it all smoke without fire? Welsh primary school children’s perceptions of electronic cigarettes’, highlights that most children (95 percent) can distinguish between tobacco and electronic cigarettes, with many thinking that e-cigarettes are safer and better than tobacco cigarettes.
The report was commissioned by Public Health Wales to help understand children’s awareness and views about e-cigarettes, compared with smoking tobacco.
The report, jointly published by Public Health Wales and the Public Health Institute at Liverpool John Moores University, highlights that almost 94% of the children acknowledged the harmful effects of smoking but that children had little understanding of any health harms of electronic cigarettes. There was considerable uncertainty and many misperceptions. Some younger children for example, mistook the fruit flavours as being an indication that the e-liquids contained fruit and were therefore healthy.
The researchers observed that an underlying theme throughout the findings was that children described electronic cigarettes as being ‘better’ and ‘healthier’ than tobacco cigarettes. While this is certainly the case for adult smokers who are trying to reduce their harm from smoking, there is clear international consensus that non smokers, particularly children and young people should not use e-cigarettes.
Over a fifth of the children who completed the questionnaire had some exposure to electronic and tobacco cigarettes through family and friends at home. This was found to have influenced children’s perceptions of smoking and vaping with the findings suggesting that children exposed to electronic cigarettes at home are better informed than their peers.
The report suggested key areas to improve children’s understanding of the risks associated with electronic cigarettes:
Including evidence based electronic cigarette education as part of the education curriculum of Welsh primary schools to address gaps in knowledge.
Health messaging efforts should reinforce children’s views that electronic cigarettes are devices to help people quit tobacco cigarettes, but they are not without harm.
More research is required to understand how primary school children’s perceptions can influence future vaping behaviour.
Dr Lorna Porcellato, lead author of the study from the Public Health Institute, Liverpool John Moores University, said:
“As one of the first global studies to investigate electronic cigarettes in the context of childhood, this research contributes unique and important insights to an underdeveloped body of knowledge. Primary school children represent an important cohort. Understanding how they conceptualise electronic cigarettes prior to experimentation is imperative for the development of effective health promotion interventions that highlight potential risks and prevent uptake in young never smokers.”
Co-author Dr Alisha Davies, Head of Research & Development, Public Health Wales, said:
“This research provides a valuable insight into children’s perceptions of electronic cigarettes, family influences on their knowledge and understanding. Reinforcing the message that electronic cigarettes support people to stop smoking is important, alongside addressing gaps in children’s knowledge about potential harms."