Ministry: Alarming trends in youth e-cigarette use

An individual 'vaping' (photo is illustrative).
An individual 'vaping' (photo is illustrative). Source: EBU/ERR

One-third of young people in Estonia aged 11-18 have tried e-cigarettes at some point, according to a recent survey.

Kats Kivistik, board member of the of the Institute of Baltic Studies (Balti Uuringute Instituut) and one of the study's authors, said: "It transpires out that tobacco and nicotine products are very easily accessible to minors, which is why, first, compliance with all existing regulations could be checked more, and second, the result that regular users of tobacco and nicotine products, including young people, considered it likely that their use would be reduced by a price increase is also worth considering besides limiting the number of outlets."

The survey, conducted by the National Institute for Health Development (TAI), also revealed that around 7 percent of school-age students use the products daily or almost daily.

Anneli Sammel, head of the health risk prevention center at TAI said: "We find that the availability of tobacco and nicotine products for minors in the retail trade is unacceptably high. 

"This must be taken into focus, especially in smaller stores and special e-cigarette shops. Establishments selling nicotine and alcohol products should be required to thoroughly educate sellers about the health effects and legislation of the products," Sammel continued, via a social affairs ministry press release.

"The training should also include the development of conflict resolution skills to support service providers in complying with the Tobacco Act," she added.

Minister of Health and Labor Peep Peterson (SDE) found the results of the study disturbing.

He said: "The research revealed several unpleasant facts: First, that specialized nicotine shops do not verify ages in the case of younger purchases, around half of the time. Second, flavored e-cigarettes continue to be on sale on the black market, which is in fact the main lure for young people and factor behind the risk of addiction."

"There are thousands of young people struggling with nicotine addiction today. I recommend the counseling service offered by the Health Insurance Fund (Haigekassa), which can be found on the page (link in Estonian). The main emphasis must be placed on supervision, but also on informing parents, teachers and young people," the minister went on.

Part of the problem, the social affairs ministry reports, arises as e-cigarettes, or "vaping", are promoted as a less damaging alternative to regular cigarette smoking, or as a way of weaning a smoker off cigarettes, and also as a fashionable practice.

However, not only do e-cigarettes replace one problem with another, they also attract a new consumer base to nicotine; massively relating to young people, the ministry says, noting that the study confirms that e-cigarettes are increasingly becoming the first nicotine product young people ever try out.

The study as quoted by the social affairs ministry revealed that:

  • Twenty percent of the overall population (16-64 years old) and 7 percent of students (11-18 years old) use some type of tobacco or nicotine product every day. 
  • Eighty-nine percent of young people find it easy to obtain such products, and nearly a third of 14-15-year-olds say they are able make purchases at a kiosk, gas station, or regular store, despite the fact sales to minors are prohibited by law.
  • 67 percent of young people choose their products based on taste, with 69 percent of young people preferring those with a "sweet" flavor and aroma.
  • When choosing tobacco and nicotine products, 57 percent of the population and 67 percent of students base their choice on taste, the survey found, and while the overall populace prefers menthol-flavored products (though menthol cigarettes are banned for sale in the EU-ed.), students prefer sweeter-flavored products. 
  • Price influences the choice of product less for young people (in around 50 percent of cases) than the population as a whole (61 percent).
  • Far more young people (90 percent of respondents) erroneously stated that e-cigarettes are less harmful to health than regular tobacco cigarettes, compared with around 50 percent of overall respondents.
  • Young people also said they believe that a lack or reduced availability of flavored e-cigarettes and related products would curb their consumption, as would a price hike.

The TAI conducted its pilot tobacco and nicotine product study in Tallinn for the first time in late 2022, to gain insight into how often tobacco and nicotine products are sold to young people without asking for proof of age, finding that this happened slightly more than half the time, in the test cases, with significantly fewer checks happening in dedicated stores whose main business depended on nicotine sales, compared with larger stores, kiosks and gas stations, who by law have to keep tobacco products concealed and sell a wide variety of other products and services.

Young people found it somewhat easier to get their hands on disposable e-cigarettes and nicotine pads, than regular cigarettes.

Cigarette sales in Estonia are forbidden by law to under-18s.

The study was carried out by the Institute of Baltic Studies, commissioned by the Ministry of Social Affairs, and polled Estonian residents aged 16-64 and students aged 11-18.

Flavored vaping additives were banned in 2019 but have reportedly been seen on sale more recently, while a ban on single-use e-cigarettes has been under consideration.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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