25 Mar 2024  |  Elke Bruno

Copy by Elke Bruno

Vaping has become a big deal in the UK, especially for young adults. Government research shows that in 2023, 69% of vapers aged 11 to 17 in Great Britain were using disposable vapes.1 It’s clearly more than just an alternative to regular smoking – but why do young adults do it? As the government suggests a disposable vaping ban for 2025, I sat down with a group of young adults aged 14-17 to get some different perspectives on vaping, why young people like it and how it should be managed.  

“Vaping is being used as a tool to help manage stress, not just because it’s a trendy thing to do. “

Interestingly none of the young adults in the group thought vaping was cool, but there was a lot less certainty about whether it was helpful, with young adults saying that it can help depending on the person. One young adult said, “if you’re vaping because you’re stressed, then that’s ok”. The group agreed vaping is being used as a tool to help manage stress, and not just because it’s a trendy thing to do. 

All participants in the group had concerns about how vaping might affect their health, showing that young adults are thinking about the risks involved in vaping. Although there is a lack of evidence on long-term side effects, a growing body of evidence suggests that nicotine exposure through vaping can have adverse effects on brain development, respiration and mental health.2 When we talked about what young adults know about vaping. Some were unsure, with varying levels of knowledge in the room, but everyone agreed they’d like to learn more, suggesting clearer information on the effects of vaping is needed.

Six of the young adults strongly believe that there should be age restrictions on vaping, suggesting it might not be suitable for younger people. Some young adults obtain their vapes from their families, emphasising the importance of families discussing vaping responsibility as well.

Reflecting on our discussion, I came to a few conclusions: Vaping is popular with young adults not just because it’s cool but in part because it is being used as a coping mechanism. It’s not hard to make the link between the challenges facing young adults at the moment (also exemplified by long NHS waiting lists3) and the increased use of vaping amongst young people. 

It is evident that there needs to be better understanding and communication about the risks of vaping so that young adults can make informed choices. And that laws need to change to keep up with our changing habits, particularly around stopping very young people from vaping. 

It also shows why it’s essential to hear young adults’ perspectives and not make assumptions, so we can build a community that cares and works for everyone’s wellbeing and understanding.

Read more about the health impacts of vaping

1 Disposable vape ban and what it means for young people – The Education Hub

2 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

3Community mental health services failing children and young people