ELECTRONIC cigarettes are getting a generation of teenagers hooked on nicotine, a study has warned.

Researchers claim that teenagers who would never normally smoke are now starting out with so-called vaping before moving on to regular cigarettes, risking long-term health problems.

The study by the University of California, San Francisco, found the number of schoolchildren who were both smoking cigarettes and e-cigarettes – which vaporise a fluid containing nicotine and a flavouring – has risen between 2011 and 2014, suggesting that the trendy devices are a gateway to the harmful habit.

Although since October 2015 it has been illegal to sell e-cigarettes to under-18s in Britain, the wide range of flavours, such as bubblegum and blueberry, make the devices extremely appealing to young people.

The report’s authors said youths in their study who were deemed a low risk of smoking cigarettes may not have developed a regular smoking habit at all if e-cigarettes did not exist.

A growing body of evidence is raising fears for children who use e-cigarettes, with a recent study showing young smokers who see others vaping are just as likely to crave a cigarette as if they had seen someone smoking.

Nicotine exposure to children as they are still growing can harm memory, attention span and emotions, according to the study published in the journal Paediatrics. The researchers also referred to previous studies on the ‘gateway’ effect, which suggest young people who vape are three times more likely to become smokers a year later. Senior author Dr Stanton Glantz, professor of medicine at the University of California, said: ‘E-cigarettes are encouraging – not discouraging – youth to smoke and to consume nicotine, and are expanding the tobacco market.’

Tobacco firms that have been hit by falling sales of cigarettes have been branching out into e-cigarettes, which contain a liquid form of nicotine heated into a vapour to be inhaled.

The figures from the US and Canada in the latest study cover a health study of more than 140,000 teenagers and show smoking rates are coming down. But between 2011 and 2014, the proportion of children using both cigarettes and e-cigarettes rose from 11.4 per cent to 12.2 per cent, driven by the fashion for vaping.

Lead author Dr Lauren Dutra said: ‘While some of the kids using e-cigarettes were also smoking cigarettes, we found those who were at low risk of starting nicotine with cigarettes were using e-cigarettes.’

E-cigarettes are marketed as helping people to quit smoking, but the authors said they saw no evidence of this.

A spokesman for the UK Vaping Industry Association said: ‘Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians found vaping to be at least 95 per cent safer than smoking tobacco. A recent survey found regular use among 11 to 18-year-olds was rare and largely among children who currently or previously smoked tobacco. There are also strict rules to ensure vaping products are not sold to minors.’

© Daily Mail