E-cigarettes smoked by young people could lead to them picking up regular cigarettes, new research has claimed.
The study by the Health Equalities Group and the Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University suggests that claims by manufacturers that e-cigarettes prevent heavier smoking of tobacco are not necessarily true, with teenagers seeing them as different things.
The report's participants said e-cigarette use is becoming more common among young people who have never smoked traditional tobacco cigarettes, but the figures suggest the actual number is still very low. Around one in 40 e-cigarette smokers have never smoked tobacco.
"This behaviour was criticised by both smokers and non-smokers, who believed that e-cigarette use could easily lead on to smoking and even other substance use behaviours," the report said.
"For many young people, e-cigarette use (particularly when tried for the first time) was associated with social gatherings and alcohol consumption."
“This is particularly concerning given that the safety of e-cigarettes has not yet been thoroughly scientifically evaluated. It is clear that urgent action is needed to educate and protect young people," said Robin Ireland, Chief Executive of Health Equalities Group.
Professor Karen Hughes, the lead author of the research, warned that use of the e-cigarette was growing rapidly.
The research was done through a series of focus groups conducted in schools, community groups and youth services as well as detailed quantitative research.
"Although some older adolescents appeared to associate e-cigarette use with smoking cessation, generally young people viewed e-cigarettes as a product in their own right, suggesting that many young people use them simply for the sake of it, for fun, or to try something new," she said.
Guidance should be developed for schools and youth services to provide them with the tools they need to talk to young people about e-cigarette use and advice on developing policies addressing their use, the report said.
Amanda Sandford, the research manager at anti-smoking campaign ASH told HuffPost UK: “This study supports the ASH finding that even trying an e-cigarette among children who have never smoked is extremely rare."