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11 July 2014, 08:48
Almost a quarter of 13 and 14-year-olds in Scotland have tried electronic cigarettes, a new survey has found.
And just under half of that age group first saw e-cigarettes being used at school, according to the ASH Scotland study.
In the 15-18 age group, 48% of those questioned said they have tried the devices.
More than three-quarters of 13 to 18-year-olds who used them have previously tried a normal cigarette, with the majority citing "curiosity'' as the reason for trying an e-cigarette.
However nearly two-thirds (63%) of the young people questioned think e-cigarettes are not "cool''.
The charity is calling for laws to ban the sale of the devices to anyone under 18 and for tighter controls on their marketing.
It said there is currently no reliable evidence on the long-term impact of inhaling e-cigarette vapour, although it added they are highly unlikely to carry the levels of harm seen with tobacco smoke.
ASH Scotland chief executive Sheila Duffy said: "Our survey shows teenagers are using e-cigarettes in significant numbers and it is particularly worrying that children as young as 13 and 14 are trying them.
"The findings underline our call for legislation to outlaw the sale of these devices to anyone under 18 and for tighter controls on their marketing.
"There is no doubt that e-cigarettes, which come in flavours such as milkshake and bubblegum, are attractive to young people.
"But many contain nicotine - a highly-addictive substance - and currently there is a lack of regulation of their contents and promotion.
"We also need more research into whether the use of e-cigarettes, and in particular the way they are marketed and promoted, could provide a gateway to tobacco and could 'renormalise' cigarette smoking, something we must fight against as Scotland moves towards its goal of having a generation free from tobacco by 2034.''
The study found 81% of 13 to 18-year-olds have heard of e-cigarettes.
It also found that young people's awareness of e-cigarettes comes mainly from promotional activity, including display stands and media presence, and seeing them used by other people, including friends, family and strangers in public places.
One in four saw them being used at school, while half (50%) saw someone puffing on them in a park and 51% in a shopping centre.
Just over one in 10 (12%) of the teenagers said they think e-cigarettes are "cool'', while 63% disagreed and 25% were not sure.
More than half (57%) agreed that young people could be influenced to try e-cigarettes by advertising.
And 11% of regular smokers and 45% of non-regular smokers said they wanted to try e-cigarettes due to advertisements.
The study found that around 60% of the young people who were not regular smokers but had tried e-cigarettes said they wanted to see what they were like.
Around a third of both smokers and non-regular smokers used them after seeing a friend with one.
ASH Scotland called for more research on e-cigarettes, with a particular emphasis on monitoring how young people's knowledge and behaviours develop over time.
It said: "These devices are almost certainly substantially safer than tobacco, but they cannot be said to be completely safe.
"Decisions on e-cigarette policies will continue to need careful consideration while we wait for better information.''
The survey involved 468 young people aged 13 to 18 in Scotland between January 21 and April 1 this year.