A qualitative study of e-cigarette emergence and the potential for renormalisation of smoking in UK youth


Brown R, Bauld L, de Lacy E, Hallingberg B, Maynard O, McKell J, Moore L & Moore G (2020) A qualitative study of e-cigarette emergence and the potential for renormalisation of smoking in UK youth. International Journal of Drug Policy, 75, Art. No.: 102598.

Background Growth of e-cigarette use among smokers has raised concerns over uptake by non-smokers, particularly young people. Legislative changes aimed in part at reducing youth exposure to e-cigarettes include the EU Tobacco Products Directive (TPD). A core justification for such measures is the belief that e-cigarettes can lead to tobacco smoking through mechanisms of renormalisation including: mimicking and normalizing the act of smoking; increasing product acceptability via marketing; nicotine exposure. These mechanisms are here explored in relation to findings from qualitative research. Methods This paper reports results from twenty-one group interviews with 14-15 year olds in Wales, England and Scotland, conducted as part of an ongoing evaluation of the impact of the TPD on youth smoking and e-cigarette use. Interviews were conducted around the end of the transitional period for TPD implementation, and explored perceptions of e-cigarettes and tobacco, as well as similarities and differences between them. Results Young people differentiated between tobacco and e-cigarettes, rejecting the term e-cigarette in favour of alternatives such as ‘vapes’. Experimental or occasional use was common and generally approved of where occurring within social activity with peers. However, regular use outside of this context was widely disapproved of, unless for the purpose of stopping smoking. Increased prevalence of e-cigarettes did not challenge strongly negative views of smoking or reduce perceived harms caused by it, with disapproval of smoking remaining high. Nicotine use was variable, with flavour a stronger driver for choice of e-liquid, and interest more generally. Conclusion The extent to which participants differentiated between vaping and smoking, including styles and reasons for use in adults and young people; absence of marketing awareness; and continued strong disapproval of smoking provides limited support for some of the potential mechanisms through which e-cigarettes may renormalise smoking. However caution over nicotine exposure is still necessary.

E-cigarette; Renormalisation; Youth; Tobacco

International Journal of Drug Policy: Volume 75

FundersNational Institute for Health Research and Medical Research Council
Publication date31/01/2020
Publication date online27/11/2019
Date accepted by journal10/11/2019