I have to say, when I first came across an e-cigarette, I didn’t know much about them; we still don’t! But a friend of mine was using it to stop smoking, he started off with a vanilla “flavoured” e-cigarette and eventually worked his way to strawberry milkshake and cookies and cream (yes, 20-somethings also like those flavours). I have to admit, being curious I tried some of his e-cigarette (as I once did with tobacco cigarettes many moons ago to understand what it felt like to smoke) and instantly realized smoking is definitely not for me.

Since that experience, I have kept a close eye on e-cigarettes and have asked myself several questions - similar to the questions I asked myself when I first wondered about cigarettes. How many people will use them? Are they a 'fad'? Can anyone buy them? Is there a toffee-flavoured one? These were the pressing questions on my mind as I was curious about them. Just like many other young people. 

Three years later, and there have been huge advances in e-cigarette use. ASH have started researching the use of e-cigarettes and have found that  adults who use e-cigarettes in the UK has grown to 2.6 million in 2015, an increase from 2.1 million in 2014 and 700,000 in 2010.

The data tells us that only 1.1 million e-cigarette users in the UK are ex-smokers, with 1.4 million e-cigarette users being dual users (using both e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes). The remainder picked up an e-cigarette despite never smoking cigarettes. After their introduction in 2007, it is clear that e-cigarettes have developed a strong following from smokers but rather than lead people to a quit, less than half of e-cigarette users have completely stopped smoking tobacco cigarettes while the majority have started using both. 

Yes, the number of smokers has reduced, but for many individuals they are now using both which means we have a large pool of smokers who are dual users. Dual users smoke tobacco cigarettes but also use e-cigarettes and currently, there is a lack of research on dual usage and the general behaviour & attitudes of e-cigarette users. 

This month, Hon Lik, the creator of e-cigarettes has come out to say that despite creating the e-cigarette to stop smoking he admits to being a dual smoker. So for him, and many others, the e-cigarette is not the magic solution. And Hon isn’t alone in being a dual smoker. ASH have reported that the prevalence of dual smokers has increased from 2.7% in 2010 to 17.6% in 2015. 

But the appeal of e-cigarettes has not dwindled yet. Research recently carried out in America found that around half of individuals chose to use e-cigarettes because of their friends or family. Another motivator for people to pick up e-cigarettes was being able to smoke indoors, as well as costing less than conventional cigarettes. This is a very interesting insight as we are able to understand what motivates individuals to pick up an e-cigarette over another product.

However they have lost their shine with advertising standards boards. Recently, e-cigarette adverts have been banned on social media after the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) deemed them inappropriate as they were likely to appeal to under-18s. The adverts featured young individuals dancing and drinking while using e-cigarettes.

Research we have carried out with adults is split between adults who have tried them as a method to quit smoking while some haven’t used them entirely as they weren’t sure how safe they are to use. Of those that used them, some continued to use them with tobacco cigarettes and became dual users. In one particular telephone interview, the participant described how they used an e-cigarette as in an attempt to quit smoking but found themselves using their e-cigarette on a very regular basis, which resulted in them smoking tobacco cigarettes much more than before after their e-cigarette malfunctioned. To say that the e-cigarette is the solution is naive. 

So what now, what should we do with all this emerging information on e-cigarettes? From a research perspective, a stronger understanding of why people are choosing e-cigarettes needs to be explored. In addition to this, it is up for debate as to whether a shift in communications needs to be initiated - from smoke-free to nicotine-free. A new study has found that an additive found in e-cigarettes helps to strengthen a nicotine addiction the more e-cigarettes are used which keeps people addicted and public health should be about conquering addiction? 

Furthermore, an exploration of potential motivators to understand what potential factors are involved in the decision making process of using an e-cigarette would be insightful. In-depth discussions with users will allow a gateway of rich insight to be extracted to better understand behaviours surrounding the use of e-cigarettes.

Being able to establish an understanding of why individuals are using e-cigarettes and what factors could contribute to deciding to use e-cigarettes would add to the body of research developing. By understanding these behaviours, smoking cessation professionals are able to adapt to a shift in smoking behaviour much better and market their services and products in line with the needs of smokers. 

Is this area something you are currently working on or would like to work on? Would you like to find out more about smoking and e-cigarette behaviour in your area? Get in touch with a member of our research team to find out how we could help you, we don’t bite!