ESRI figures and youth experimentation

The ESRI (Economic and Social Research Institute) have today published the latest findings of the ”Growing up in Ireland Survey”. The survey is a government-backed initiative in conjunction with the Department of Children and Youth affairs, and Trinity College, Dublin, and which looks at a range of aspects of the lives of just over 6,000 17/18 year olds who have been participating in the study since 2007, when they were 9 years old.

We noted some figures on smoking and vaping in the part of the report that looks at risky health behaviours and sexual activity, and below is the IVVA’s brief statement on it.

 


 

The IVVA note from the ESRI ‘Growing up in Ireland’ survey published today that on the topic of the numbers of those surveyed, ”ever use” of vaping products seems to be the measurement, but ”prevalence” is the term used in the report findings.

‘Ever-use’ can best be described as a measurement of experimentation, however it doesn’t tell us how these products are used, how often, why, or even what types of products being used – eg – if that experimentation is with products containing nicotine, or with products containing zero nicotine.

And while we do understand that funding may be an issue for these types of studies in Ireland, we do feel that the public money spent on research needs to reflect a good return on investment.

Even though our members do not sell to those aged under 18, until such time as the retailers licensing regulation comes into being, enforcing this for retailers across the sector, young people will still most likely experiment with these products.

What would be useful, is for data to be gathered before that sales ban comes into force and, say, a year afterwards, to monitor any possible effects that the ban has had, such as:

– have experimentation rates gone up or down, or remained static?
– has the ban had any effect on smoking rates?
– has there been any change in the types of products being experimented with?
– can it be ascertained where young people are accessing the products from, pre and post ban?

 

The IVVA would also query the ESRI’s inclusion of the following statement:

 

”Substantial controversy surrounds the use of e-cigarettes (also known as “vaping”) whose impact on health is as yet unknown.”
 

The IVVA would agree with UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies’ (UKCTAS) critique of the recent WHO report on vaping products, in which they state that:

 

”To address this problem of misperception of risk, the Royal College of Physicians proposes the following carefully worded statement that reflects a degree of uncertainty, but aims to align risk perceptions more closely to the current understanding of science:

“Although it is not possible to precisely quantify the long-term health risks associated with e-cigarettes, the available data suggest that they are unlikely to exceed 5% of those associated with smoked tobacco products, and may well be substantially lower than this figure”.

We believe this remains the best most realistic formulation at present, and that it errs on the side of caution.”

 

The ESRI survey reports:

 

”A  majority  (83%)  of  those  who  had  smoked  an e-cigarette  had  also  smoked  other  cigarettes.  This means that 17% of 17/18-year-olds who had smoked e-cigarettes had not previously smoked tobacco- based cigarettes (not shown here)”

 

Firstly, it is extremely important that terminology used in research reflects the real world, and it isn’t possible to ‘smoke’ an e-cigarette. The terminology used in the ESRI report unfortunately conflates vaping and smoking and ignores the fact that the two activities do not present anything like the same levels of risk.

Secondly, it is somewhat disappointing to already see comments on social media which claim that the ESRI survey shows vaping is acting as a ”gateway” from vaping to smoking in Irish youth, when neither of the two statements above could possibly demonstrate this.

The members of IVVA are supportive of a ban on sales to those under 18. However, we feel that real world effects of this policy should be carefully monitored, and this requires good data from before, as well as after the policy is implemented.

 

Resources:

ESRI Growing Up In Ireland findings (page 7/8)
http://www.esri.ie/pubs/SUSTAT59.pdf

UKCTAS comments on WHO report – (pages 14/15)
http://ukctas.net/pdfs/UKCTAS-response-to-WHO-ENDS-report-26.10.2016.pdf