Vaping is the new smoking among teenagers

Supposedly beneficial for people trying to give up real cigarettes, electronic cigarettes could have the opposite effect on youngsters by introducing them to nicotine and other potentially harmful chemicals – but they're all the rage, writes Leona O'Neill

Teenagers don't have to try to buy their e-cigs in a shop where they might be turned away because of their school uniform – they just go online and click the box that declares they are over 18
Teenagers don't have to try to buy their e-cigs in a shop where they might be turned away because of their school uniform – they just go online and click the box that declares they are over 18

ON FRIDAY last I found myself in an ATM queue behind one of those women who spend 10 minutes putting in three different cards, lodging and taking out money, printing out receipts and then withdrawing more money.

It gave me plenty of time to look around. Beside us sitting on a wall there were a group of young male teenagers smoking. Looking at them all, in a line in their school uniforms, individual smoke rising into the air in a volume terraced house chimneys would produce took me back to my own school days. Oh how I thought I was so cool smoking.

But when I looked closer they weren't smoking cigarettes.

There was no encasing of the lit cigarette within the palm of the hand, holding it between the middle finger and the thumb, sucking the last dregs out of the butt while screwing up the face, like the hard men did back in the day. No, every single one of them was puffing on an electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs – battery-operated cigarette substitutes, that have the appearance of a pipe; people use to help get them off the smokes.

And there were these kids, none of them older than 13, puffing away like they were lounging in some hip Paris street cafe.

I walked back to my car pondering just how many cigarettes these poor children must have been on to have to use their e-cig pipes to try and get off them.

I mentioned it to my two boys, aged 13 and 11. They looked at me with that 'your lack of knowledge is, like, so embarrassing' look and told me that everyone 'vapes' these days. I told them if I caught them vaping I'd ground them until they were 40.

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the e-cig generation.

E-cigs are battery-powered smoking devices. They use cartridges filled with a liquid which contains nicotine, flavourings, and other chemicals. A heater in the e-cigarette converts the liquid into a vapour, which the person then inhales.

When I was a teenage girl buying single cigarettes in a shop for 10p was the done thing. Back in those days purveyors of tobacco gave not a damn that you were 14, 16, 76 or 106. If you had the cold hard cash, as in 10p, you got the goods. Then the government cracked down and insisted shops could only sell cigarettes to those aged over 16.

But then, you don't have to purchase your e-cigs in a shop from a cross looking woman who eyes your uniform and turns you away. You can get them posted to your very house. Teenagers simply click on an box that declares they are over 18 – I swear.

Vaping is quickly becoming the new smoking among teenagers. You can guarantee, all across the north teenagers are still lurking in alleys and at the sides of shops puffing away. But these days, they are puffing on the very modern equivalent to 10 B&H from yesteryear. There is smoke rising from these dark places, but it smells of vanilla, strawberry, custard or ice cream. Or if you're hardcore you can get vape that smells of tobacco. You can even buy vape juice that produces giant vape clouds to impress your mates.

Certainly e-cigs may help people get off cigarettes and better their health. I know a lot of long-term smokers who have stopped smoking real cigarettes successfully by using them. But kids these days, who have never smoked a day in their lives, who had no intention of smoking, are joining the masses puffing away in those alleys.

But e-cigarettes contain nicotine. So these kids will get addicted. It could certainly be a pathway on to real cigarettes. And the simple fact is that nicotine is harmful to the developing teenage brain and there has not been enough research into e-cigs and the liquid vapour, synthetic nicotine and propylene glycol they contain for any of us to declare these things are completely harmless, much less a great thing for our kids to be partaking of. We simply do not know what the long or short-term health effects of these things are.

My sons tell me they can purchase e-cigs for as little as £3. If my sons can, yours can too.