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E-cigarettes more popular in Estonia as young people start smoking earlier

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

The number of smokers in Estonia is generally decreasing. However, for the country's young people, regular cigarettes are being replaced by e-cigarettes, which more and more are starting to smoke from a younger age.

The number of people who smoke on a daily basis in Estonia has decreased on year, with more and more men in particular opting to quit. Among young people, however, that trend has now reversed, especially among girls and young women. This is mainly due to the introduction of e-cigarettes, the taste of which can be sweetened with different flavorings. Thus, e-cigarettes, which are primarily intended to help people quit regular cigarettes, have become a first step into the world of smoking for many young people.

"The use of e-cigarettes in general is on the rise, especially among young people. What we have seen in the last few years is that this is increasing. Young people today are starting much earlier than they used to, from a younger age. We're talking today about a starting age of 10 – 11 years," said Aive Telling, head of chemical safety and environmental health department at the Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs.

"Whereas in the past, it was mainly cigarettes or the first product that people started with was a regular cigarette, what we are seeing now is that the very first product that people begin with is an e-cigarette," said Tiina Kuusik, senior alcohol and tobacco specialist at the Estonian National Institute for Health Development.

"If you look at the latest survey data, for example, among 11-year-olds, around 10 percent have already tried an e-cigarette. Among 15-year-olds, almost half have already tried one," she added.

However, the earlier you are exposed to nicotine, the more likely you are to smoke later in life. As many as half of the 15-year-olds who smoke e-cigarettes or use chewing tobacco also smoke regular cigarettes.

Telling said that the use of nicotine products among young people has not decreased when compared to the figures from a few decades ago.

However, e-cigarettes containing nicotine are even easier for minors to obtain in stores in Estonia than regular cigarettes. While in 60 percent of cases minors were not asked to prove their age or were knowingly sold e-cigarettes, 45 percent were able to obtain regular cigarettes in the same way way.

France has decided to ban disposable e-cigarettes. Estonia, however, does not see such a move as having the desired effect, as even though e-cigarettes with sweetened liquids are already banned, but their availability has not decreased, as the sweeteners themselves are still available in Latvia. Schoolchildren tend to get them via social media channels, where they are not asked to prove their age in any case.

"This should be a central solution and common to all countries. It is quite difficult to tackle this problem individually," said Telling.

Environmental concerns could trigger e-cigarette ban

However, disposable e-cigarettes also pose an environmental problem, which could provide the basis for a ban.

"For us, what is important first of all, is that these e-cigarettes are collected. So that they do not end up in the municipal waste or on the street," said Piret Otsason, adviser at the Estonian Ministry of Climate's department for circular economy.

Disposable e-cigarettes are electronic devices and therefore subject to EU regulations on extended producer responsibility. That is, they should be collected and treated once used. However, they are not covered by the single-use plastics directive, which was in place before disposable e-cigarettes came into existence.

"It's such a new product and EU regulations don't catch up as quickly as new products appear on the market. I myself would expect the EU to come out with more effective measures on e-cigarettes," said Otsason.

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Editor: Michael Cole

Source: Aktuaalne kaamera

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