Social media companies ‘must act now’ to crack down on videos accused of increasing number of child vapers

Social media sites like TikTok must do more to tackle the “glamorous promotion” of vaping, experts said after latest figures showed the number of children using vapes nearly doubled in two years.

The YouGov survey, which surveyed just over 2,600 children and young people, found that the number of children over the age of 11 using e-cigarettes rose from 4% in 2020 to 7% this year.

The results also show a significant increase in the habit among older teens and young adults over the past decade – the rate among 16- and 17-year-olds rose from 7% to 29%, while for 18-year-olds , there was a huge jump from 9% to 41%.

Now health experts have called for more to be done to stop videos that ‘glamourize’ vaping from appearing on social media sites, after a survey found half of those who use e- cigarettes had watched vaping videos on TikTok, Snapchat or Instagram.

Deborah Arnott is chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), which conducted the survey in conjunction with the Department of Health. She said: “Online platforms don’t need to wait, they need to act now.

“The flood of glamorous promotion of vaping on social media, especially TikTok, is totally inappropriate and they should turn off the tap.”

She went on to say, “The disposable vapes that have grown in popularity over the past year are pocket-sized products with bright colors, sweet flavors and sweet names.

“They’re widely available for less than a fiver – no wonder they’re appealing to kids.”

Experts are also concerned about the latest disposable vapes – “flaky bars” – which contain nicotine, harmful particles and chemical flavorings that have been linked to lung disease.

They say action must be taken to prevent sales to minors and the promotion of vaping on social media sites, and to tackle “child-friendly” packaging.

Ann McNeill, Professor of Tobacco Science at King’s College London, said: “The increase in vaping is concerning and we need to understand what is behind it, such as packaging, accessibility, taste or addiction.

“Our response needs to be proportionate given that smoking poses a much greater health risk to young people and good evidence that e-cigarettes can be an effective quit smoking aid.

“The government should ensure that existing laws are enforced and identify areas where regulations could be extended. However, this needs to be done alongside a much faster decline in the number of young people starting to smoke and helping more smokers to quit.

A TikTok spokeswoman said: “Regardless of the user’s age, we strictly prohibit any content that depicts or promotes the sale, trade or supply of tobacco, including vaping products, and we will remove any content that violates our community guidelines.

“We also do not recommend content that shows or promotes tobacco products in TikTok user feeds.”

A Snapchat spokesperson said, “Using Snapchat to buy or sell vaping products is strictly against our policies.

“You can’t search for vaping-related terms, and we remove infringing content and accounts when we discover it through our security tools or through our in-app reporting tools.”