Study: Children who spend more time on social media ‘more likely to vape’

A recent study from Britain shows that children who use social media regularly are more likely to vape and smoke cigarettes. — Image by marymarkevich on Freepik

LONDON: Youngsters who spend a lot of time on social media are more likely to vape and smoke cigarettes, new British research suggests.

The more time children and young people spend on social media, the more likely they are to be regular users, experts found.

This was particularly apparent at higher levels of use, with those on social media more than seven hours a day almost eight times more likely to smoke than non-users, and four times more likely to vape.

The study, published in the journal Thorax, included data for 10,808 people aged 10 to 25 from the UK Household Longitudinal Study 2015-2021.

In total, just over 8.5% reported current cigarette smoking in at least one survey, while 2.5% reported current vaping.

Just over 1% used both.

Analysis showed that 2% of those who said they did not use social media reported current cigarette smoking, compared with 9.2% who used social media for one to three hours a day per weekday.

This rose to 12.2% of people smoking who used social media for four to six hours a day and 15.7% for those who spent seven or more hours per weekday on it.

Meanwhile, for vaping, 0.8% of those not using social media vaped, rising to 2.4% among those using it for one to three hours a day per weekday.

This rose again to 3.8% for those using social media four to six hours a day and 4% for those using social media for more than seven hours a day.

The researchers, including from Imperial College London School of Public Health, said there was “compelling evidence that vape companies are using social media to market their products”.

They added: "Social media may be driving cigarette smoking and e-cigarette use through both direct, targeted advertisements and the use of paid influencers by the tobacco industry."

The researchers said companies that own social media platforms have "substantial power" to modify exposure to material that promotes smoking and vaping if they choose to or are compelled to.

"Voluntary codes seem unlikely to achieve this, and the introduction and enforcement on bans on material that promote this should be considered," they said.

It comes after research earlier this week showed children’s exposure to vape marketing is at an all-time high, with youngsters overwhelmingly opting for fruit and dessert-flavoured vapes.

Annual survey results from Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) found children in Great Britain are increasingly aware of vape marketing, including in shops and via social media sites such as TikTok and YouTube.

The 2024 poll of 2,587 children aged 11 to 17 found that 7.6% currently vape, the same proportion as last year, but up from 2.8% in 2017 and 0.8% in 2013.

The data, shared exclusively with the PA news agency, found that 57% of child vapers and 47% of adult vapers prefer fruit as their main choice of vape flavour.

When it comes to vapes being marketed, 55% of 11- to 17-year-olds are aware of vape promotion in shops compared with 37% two years ago, while 16% see adverts on billboards, up from 12% two years ago.

Furthermore, just 19% of 11- to 17-year-olds said they were not aware of vape promotion at all, down from 31% two years ago.

And when it comes to individual social media sites, of the 29% aware of online promotion, some 52% see vapes promoted on TikTok, up slightly from 49% last year.

Meanwhile, 32% see this on YouTube, up from 29%.

Hazel Cheeseman, deputy chief executive of Ash, said of the new study: "Getting rid of children’s exposure to tobacco promotion has been important to reducing rates of smoking among teenagers.

"This new study adds to the evidence that online promotions are contributing to children’s likelihood of trying vaping.

"Young people deserve to be just as well protected in online spaces as they are in physical spaces and Government must look at what can be done to secure this." – dpa

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