Vaping has gained major traction in recent years, especially in the U.S. and UK. A large number of vaping stores and brands are popping up, and you only have to walk down the street to get a sniff of sweet-smelling vapor from a passerby’s device.

When e-cigarettes first came on the scene around 10 years ago, they were seen as the perfect remedy to quit smoking tobacco cigarettes. The devices don’t contain tobacco or the multiple carcinogenic chemicals that plague tobacco cigarettes, so many people see them as a safer alternative.

However, they’re not entirely free from toxins, and because the devices are relatively new there are many questions surrounding the long-term health effects of using e-cigarettes.

In a recent survey, we explored the perceptions of e-cigarettes among 2,910 internet users in the U.S and UK, and dug deeper into the behaviors and attitudes of e-cigarette users.

E-cigarettes are more popular among younger audiences.

E-cigarettes were originally marketed as tobacco-replacement products. Despite this, we’ve seen a rise in not only ex-smokers using the devices, but also people who dual-smoke; smoking tobacco cigarettes and e-cigarettes simultaneously.

Our data shows 11% of users only smoke e-cigarettes and around 1 in 5 are dual smokers. Dual smoking is also twice as common in the U.S. than the UK.

When we break this down by age, it’s clear more younger audiences are vaping.

The U.S. has a higher concentration of young vapers, with around 16% of 18-24 year olds using e-cigarettes compared to 10% in the UK.

Graphic: E-cigarette usage is more prevalent among younger audiences.

Worryingly, the National Youth Tobacco Survey 2018 identified a surge in youth e-cigarette usage – 1.5 million more students used e-cigarettes in 2018 compared to 2017.

In a bid to curb this rise among children and teenagers, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) enforced new regulations on e-cigarettes in 2018. This involved restricting the sale of fruit or candy flavored e-cigarettes in gas stations and convenience stores, and introducing stricter online age-verification rules.

E-cigarettes can be a helpful way to quit smoking tobacco, but not the habit.

We already know e-cigarettes are marketed heavily as a tool to quit smoking tobacco cigarettes. And from our data, we can see this is true to some degree.

Over 80% of e-cigarette users say e-cigarettes helped them quit tobacco cigarettes. This also applies to younger consumers.

Around 30% of non-smokers also said they don’t mind their significant others smoking e-cigarettes because it helped them quit tobacco cigarettes.

But is it a case of the better of two evils? Many people believe e-cigarettes may be safer than tobacco cigarettes, but it doesn’t mean they’re good for you.

E-cigarettes contain varying levels of nicotine and are highly addictive. For this reason, around 3 in 5 of all internet users don’t think e-cigarettes are necessarily better than tobacco cigarettes.

On top of this, it doesn’t appear to curb the habit of smoking. Almost 1 in 4 consumers who say vaping helped them quit tobacco say they smoke e-cigarettes more often than they did tobacco, and around 2 in 5 smoke the same amount.

What are the main reasons for using e-cigarettes?

The belief that vaping is a safer alternative (44%) is the most popular reason for using them.

However, further research into the effects of e-cigarette chemicals is needed before any concrete conclusion can be made. Close to 70% of internet users say they have concerns about the lack of research into the effects of e-cigarette chemicals on themselves and others.

Another top reason for using e-cigarettes is the appealing flavors and tastes available (42%).

It’s widely believed the sweet flavors, like mango and cherry, add to the allure of e-cigarettes, especially among teenagers. Surprisingly, flavors are actually more enticing to 45-55-year-olds (67%) than 18-24-year-olds (43%).

Graphic: Top 5 reasons for using e-cigarettes

The biggest e-cigarette brand in the U.S., JUUL, has come under intense scrutiny for minors using their products.

The company has previously claimed to fully support the FDA’s efforts to curb underage use of e-cigarettes but say “flavors play an important role in helping adult smokers switch to vapor technology.”

Our data shows the main reasons why 18-24 year olds use e-cigarettes is because it’s cool and trendy (61%) and because their friends do it (52%). This suggests this age group is more susceptible to pressure and easily influenced, which is troubling as it could lead them to see vaping as harmless fun.

Why does it matter?

The controversy around vaping, especially among younger people, hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Just over 3 in 4 internet users agree there is an issue of e-cigarette usage among teenagers.

Often alluring advertisements of e-cigarette brands may be adding to the problem, with nearly 60% of internet users feeling adverts for e-cigarettes can sometimes be misleading. JUUL has come under fire in the past for their youth marketing and including models in their campaigns.

Brands and policymakers need to work together to change the system.

Regulations around advertising, distribution, safety and naming of flavors will create tighter control and increased transparency of e-cigarettes, which should reduce vaping among teenagers. Brands who make an effort to be part of the solution, will help create valuable change.

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Written by

Katie is a Senior Trends Manager at GWI. She’s an avid baker and Harry Potter fanatic, who loves to binge-watch all the latest shows. When she’s not busy whipping up a cheesecake or watching murder-mysteries, you’ll find her exploring what makes consumers tick.

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