Decorative - Person in hooded top using an e-cigarette/vape

FAQs: Vaping in children and young people

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This blog article has been prepared by Temba Davies, a career ready intern, in collaboration with the Health and Social Care Research Team in SPICe.  You can find out more about Career Ready on their website.

What is an e-cigarette?

The NHS defines an e-cigarette as “A device that allows you to inhale nicotine in a vapour rather than smoke.” They are made to be a safer alternative to smoking tobacco and are meant to act as a stepping stone for people who want to quit smoking altogether. E-cigarettes are also known as “vapes”.

However, evidence shows that they are more attractive to those under the age of 18 than conventional cigarettes. The Health (Tobacco, Nicotine etc. and Care) (Scotland) Act 2016 makes it illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to buy e-cigarettes. It is also illegal for anyone to sell vapes to anyone under 18 years old. It is also illegal to buy vapes for those under 18. Someone who is caught buying or selling them to under 18s could be prosecuted, fined and end up with a criminal record.

How many children and young people use vapes in Scotland?

The Scottish Government’s Health and Wellbeing Census, 2021-22 showed that 10% of Scotland’s S4 pupils surveyed regularly use e-cigarettes. The growing up in Scotland survey 2021 (GUS), showed that 21.5% of 14 year olds have tried a vape at least once.

What are the health harms for children and young people of vaping?

Regular usage of e-cigarettes is seen as being better than regularly using tobacco, as e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco, which can cause some cancers. However, they can still cause some health harms.

Research from the House of Lords library shows that children and young people who regularly use e-cigarettes are much more likely to experience a chronic cough than adults.

Regular usage of e-cigarettes can weaken the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to illnesses.

Long-term nicotine use can also have a major impact on the growth of the brain and could potentially lead to cognitive issues, and intensify the symptoms of mood disorders such as Depression and self-harm.

It can also have a negative effect on dental health  and can contribute to issues such as gum diseases, increased risk of cavities and teeth grinding.

There have previously been arguments on whether e-cigarettes act as a gateway to smoking tobacco and other drugs. However, this study by University College London states that: “Although some harm from vaping relative to never vaping cannot be ruled out, this study suggests there is little evidence of a substantial gateway effect into smoking.”

What are the rules on advertising vapes?

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has said:

“Ads for e-cigarettes must be targeted responsibly; they must not be directed at under 18s through the selection of media or the context in which they appear and no medium should be used if more than 25% of its audience is under 18.”

The ASA sets out that it is important that companies follow the rules set by the ASA in the UK when advertising e-cigarettes. They should make sure the advert makes it clear that the product they are buying contains nicotine and should be used responsibly. By following these guidelines, companies can ensure that their advertising is responsible, and promotes the safety of the buyer.They should make sure the advert makes it clear that the product they are buying contains nicotine and should be used responsibly. By following these guidelines, companies can ensure that their advertising is responsible, and promotes the safety of the buyer.

What are the rules and regulations in other countries? 

In countries such as Argentina, Thailand and Japan there is a complete ban on e-cigarettes. Thailand is seen to have some of the world’s strictest laws on vaping, including potential prison sentences, although these laws may be softened in future.

The Netherlands have recently put forward a ban on vapes. The production of vapes will be stopped on 1 July 2023. Shops and Supermarkets will then be given a sell-out period which will end on 1 October 2023.

In the USA, in most states, vaping is legal for those aged 21 and over as of 20 December 2019.

What discussion of the topic has there been in the Scottish Parliament?

On 31 January 2023, there was a Members Business debate on youth vaping in the Scottish Parliament, led by Siobhan Brown MSP. The motion noted:

  • That vapes are not meant for non-smokers, children and young people and should only be used as a way of quitting smoking.
  • The flavours and the wide variety of colours of vapes available make them more attractive to children and young people.
  • There is not much evidence on the long-term impact of vapes, though there is clear evidence, that they are harmful to the body, and do have risks.

In summing up, the then Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport, Maree Todd MSP, said:

“The Scottish Government has a clear policy on vaping products: they are one of a range of possible smoking cessation tools, but they are not a lifestyle accessory for young people or indeed adult non-smokers.”

What are the environmental impacts of vaping?

The Scottish Government is currently considering evidence around the environmental impact of single use vapes.  On the environmental impact, the Government states that:

  • vapes should be correctly disposed and batteries should be removed (if removable)
  • vapes could pose as a fire risk if they aren’t disposed of correctly
  • vapes are regularly contributing to litter in communities.

Temba Davies, Career Ready Intern, SPICe