Smoking among teenage boys rising ‘for first time in 25 years’

Study finds rates of vaping among teenagers have almost doubled over four years

Smoking rates among teenage boys in Ireland are increasing for the first time in 25 years, a new study suggests.

With rates of vaping among teenagers almost doubling over a four-year period, researchers concluded teenagers who use e-cigarettes are more likely to smoke.

The researchers say their findings indicate Ireland will not meet its targets to reduce smoking rates and add to evidence that vaping could be promoting a new generation of young people addicted to nicotine.

Results from the latest survey of Irish teenagers, conducted as part of Europe-wide research, showed 16.2 per cent of boys were smokers, compared to 13.1 per cent four years earlier. The proportion of teenage girls who smoked was unchanged, at 12.8 per cent.


The data comes from the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD), a survey of around 100,000 15- to 16-year-olds, conducted every four years in 35 European countries. There were 1,493 Irish teenagers involved in the 2015 survey and 1,949 teenagers in the 2019 survey.

In 2015, 23 per cent of teenagers said they had used e-cigarettes at some point, and this increased to 37 per cent in 2019. In 2015, 10.1 per cent said they were currently using e-cigarettes, and this increased to 18.1 per cent in 2019.

The data also showed teenagers who said they had used e-cigarettes at some point or were currently using them were 50 per cent more likely to smoke.

The study appears in the ERJ Open Research journal published online by the European Respiratory Society.

It was led by Prof Luke Clancy, director general of the TobaccoFree Research Institute Ireland, based in Dublin. He said: “Smoking rates among teenagers have been falling in Ireland, as with many other countries in Europe and in the USA. On the other hand, use of e-cigarettes is increasing around the world.

“The dangers of smoking are well-known. We are still learning about the effects of e-cigarettes, but we know that the nicotine they contain can cause brain damage in teenagers. There’s also a concern that they could lead to an increase in smoking.”

Prof Clancy noted the Government aims to make Ireland “tobacco-free” by 2025, meaning rates of smoking should be below 5 per cent.

“Our previous research suggested this goal may not be met for the whole population, but, until now, we thought it could be achieved in teenagers. That now looks very unlikely, meaning that smoking and all the death and disability that is associated with it will continue.”

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.