Irish teenagers say e-cigarette brands are targeting them with sweet flavours such as candyfloss and bubblegum.
This is according to research among Irish teenagers commissioned by the Irish Cancer Society and Irish Heart Foundation and launched today by Minister for Health Simon Harris.
Focus group research by IPSOS MRBI among third and fourth year students showed that they do not believe that sweet e-cigarette flavours were designed for adults only. Instead, they asserted that such flavours are strongly associated with snacks, treats and sweets that appeal to young people.
There was also unanimous rejection by teenagers of the idea that e-cigarette companies don’t design their advertising and packaging to attract children.
The Irish Heart Foundation and Irish Cancer Society have called for strict restrictions on e-cigarette flavours and advertising to be included in the upcoming legislation banning the sale of e-cigarettes to under-18s.
Speaking at the launch, Tim Collins, CEO of the Irish Heart Foundation, said: “The fact that the only purpose of flavours like strawberry milkshake, cherry crush, chocolate mint and caramel is to lure a whole new generation of children into nicotine addiction has been endorsed resoundingly by the teenagers who took part in this research."
“The usefulness of e-cigarettes is as a harm reduction tool for long-term smokers.
The idea that they need chocolate or bubblegum flavoured e-cigarettes to achieve that, or branding that features cartoon characters and bright attractive packaging has been exposed as preposterous by these young people.
Averil Power, CEO of the Irish Cancer Society, said it is crystal clear that long-term smokers represent just a small part of the target market of the big e-cigarette brands.
"The bigger objective – and the bigger profits – lie in causing children and young people who have never smoked to become addicted to nicotine," she said.
“Banning the sale of e-cigarettes to under-18s is important, but it’s not enough to protect young people. We have to extend this ban to flavours and aggressive advertising tactics that have led in the US to what the Surgeon General described as an “epidemic” of youth e-cigarette use.”
The latest US figures — where the majority of the market is made up of teen-friendly flavoured e-cigarettes — show that 27.5% of high school students are current users, up from 11.7% in 2017.
The most recent figures in Ireland are for 2015, before the spike experienced in the US, and show that 24.7% of 15-17 year olds have tried e-cigarettes, whilst 11% are current users, which is defined as use in the previous 30 days.
The Irish Heart Foundation and Irish Cancer Society have previously welcomed the Minister’s proposed legislation to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to children under the age of 18.
They say the research demonstrates the urgent need to also ban e-cigarette flavouring in order to protect the health of Ireland’s children and prevent them from being introduced to tobacco through e-cigarettes.
Campaigners have criticised the Health Minister's proposed ban.
John Mallon, spokesman for the consumer group Forest Ireland, said: "A ban on flavoured e-cigarettes would be a grossly disproportionate reaction because the current evidence suggests that, in terms of risk, vaping is much safer than smoking.
"No-one wants to see children smoking or vaping but the choice of flavours is one of the most attractive aspects of vaping for adults who are trying to quit smoking.
"Banning flavours would discourage thousands of smokers from switching to a reduced risk product. It would also drive more consumers, including children, to the unregulated black market.
“In public health terms, that would be massive own goal."