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Publication, Part of

Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People in England, 2021

National statistics

National Statistics

Correction to sources of information on drug use data (part 10)

Following the initial publication it was discovered that around half of pupil responses to the question on 'Sources of helpful information about drug use' had been excluded from the results. This was corrected and the affected tables and commentary have been re-issued. 

In Part 10: Young people and drugs: the context, the affected outputs were tables 10.19, 10.20 and 10.21, and the associated chart and commentary in the section on 'Sources of helpful information about drug use'. Though some of the quoted figures changed by 0-3 percentage points, there was no effect to the order of contribution of the most common sources.

4 November 2022 00:00 AM

Part 4: Electronic cigarette use (vaping)


In 2014, pupils were asked for the first time about e-cigarettes, with further questions added in 2016.

New legislation came into force in England and Wales on 1 October 2015, introducing a minimum age of sale of 18 for e-cigarettes and prohibiting the purchase of these products on behalf of someone under the age of 18.

In 2015, Public Health England (PHE) published an independent evidence review on electronic cigarettes which concluded that the devices are significantly less harmful than smoking. The review also found no evidence that electronic cigarettes act as a route into smoking for children or non-smokers:

E-cigarettes: an evidence update

Pupils were asked about awareness, frequency and length of use, sources of e-cigarettes, success in obtaining them from shops, and attitudes to use.

Current e-cigarette users were categorised as follows:

  • Regular users (defined as usually using an e-cigarette at least once per week);
  • Occasional users (defined as using an e-cigarette sometimes but less than once per week, but excluding those who had tried them just once or twice in total)

Lifetime use (ever used an e-cigarette) additionally includes ex e-cigarette users, and those who had only tried them once or twice.

The majority (88%) of pupils were aware of e-cigarettes. Pupils who said they weren't aware were not asked any further questions on e-cigarettes. 

E-cigarette prevalence

E-cigarette prevalence, by year

The proportion of pupils classified as current e-cigarette users has increased from 6% in 2018, to 9% (confidence interval 7-10%) in 2021.

The rise in current use was not seen for lifetime use. 22% (confidence interval 20-24%) of pupils reported they had ever used e-cigarettes, compared to 25% in 2018 (not a significant change). 


E-cigarette prevalence, by sex

For girls, prevalence of both regular and current users has increased since 2018.

Girls were now more likely than boys to be current e-cigarette users; 10% for girls compared to 7% for boys. Regular use was now similar (4% for boys and 5% for girls).



Current e-cigarette use, by age

Current e-cigarette use increased with age; from 1% of 11 year olds, to 11% of 14 year olds and 18% of 15 year olds. 

Current e-cigarette use for 15 year old girls increased from 10% in 2018 to 21% in 2021 (not shown on chart - see table 4.3).


E-cigarette prevalence, by cigarette smoking status

Pupils who had ever smoked were much more likely to also have ever used an e-cigarette, than those who had never smoked.

56% of ex-smokers were current e-cigarette users.

Most regular smokers (92%) reported having ever used e-cigarettes. This compares to just 13% of pupils who had never smoked.

Regular smokers who were regular e-cigarette users has more than doubled; from 29% in 2018 to 61% in 2021. Only 1% of pupils who had never smoked were regular e-cigarette users.

Sources of e-cigarettes

Sources of e-cigarettes (regular users)

Pupils could give more than one answer.

61% of regular e-cigarette users said other people gave them e-cigarettes, the most common of whom were friends (45%).

Buying from any kind of shop increased from 29% in 2018, to 57% in 2021, with newsagent the most common type of shop (41%). 


Difficulty buying from shops

All pupils

There was a rise in pupils who had asked someone else to buy them e-cigarettes or refills from a shop in the last year, from 5% to 9%.

Of these pupils, 79% were successful.

Current e-cigarette users

61% of current e-cigarette users had asked someone else to buy them e-cigarettes or refills from a shop in the last year, compared to 40% in 2018.

Of these users, 87% were successful.

Attitudes to e-cigarette use

Attitudes to e-cigarette use by people of pupil's age, by age

Despite the increase in prevalence of current e-cigarette use, the proportion of pupils who thought it was ok to try or use e-cigarettes has fallen compared to 2018.

32% of pupils thought it was ok for people of their own age to try an e-cigarette to see what it's like, and 20% thought it was ok to use an e-cigarette once a week, compared to 36% and 24%, respectively, in 2018.

Positive attitude increased with age; 5% of 11 year olds thought it was ok for someone of their own age to use an e-cigarette once a week, compared to 35% of 15 year olds.

Impact of Covid lockdowns on e-cigarette prevalence

Pupils who are current e-cigarette users, by how often they met other people outside of home/school in the last four weeks

Pupils who met people outside of home/school more frequently in the last four weeks were far more likely to be current e-cigarette users. 23% of pupils who said they met people every day were classified as current e-cigarette users, compared to only 1% for those who never met people outside of home/school. 



Pupils who are current e-cigarette users by how they took part in school learning in the last school year

Pupils who continued to go to school all the time in the last school year were twice as likely to be current e-cigarette users (14%), than those who had studied at home all or most of the time (7%).


Last edited: 4 October 2023 2:20 pm