What Percentage of People Vape in the UK?

What Percentage of People Vape in the UK?

March 27, 2023

Since vaping first appeared on the UK market in 2005, it has seen substantial growth in popularity, in complete contrast to the plummeting numbers of traditional cigarette smokers. The last few years have seen some fluctuation worldwide as governments have sought to curb their use, but the number of people vaping in the UK is now hitting record levels.   

Over the last few years, researchers have carried out several studies to uncover the reasons driving the rapid expansion of the vape industry. This review shares these insights about the percentage of people vaping in the UK.

Smoking and Vaping Prevalence in the UK

The number of people vaping or who have vaped at some point has been steadily increasing since the mid-2000s. Figures jumped substantially around 2012 in line with technological advancements, and apart from 2020, which saw a decrease in numbers, probably due to presumed complications with Covid-19, numbers have risen year after year.    

Young People 

The latest figures come from the ASH-Youth 2022 survey, which focused on 11 to 18-year-olds in England. Researchers found that 8.6% of young people consider themselves regular or occasional vapers.

Those numbers are up from 4% in 2021 and 4.8% in 2020. The most significant jump has been in disposable vaping products, with 52.8% of young vapers choosing them, compared to 7.8% in 2021 and 5.3% in 2020.   

Adults 

In adults, figures from 2021 show that 6.9%-7.1% of the population occasionally or regularly use vape products. That percentage equates to between 3.1 and 3.2 million adults. These figures show a roughly 1.7% rise in vaping in the adult population compared to a decade ago.   

What Else Did the Vaping Evidence Review Uncover? 

Those statistics show only part of the picture. The reasons driving the increase in vape use involve multiple factors. 

Flavours 

Fruit is the most popular flavour choice, followed by mint/menthol. The report shows that there is, as of yet, little research about the effect flavouring could have on vaping. 

More focus will likely be on the flavouring chemical cinnamaldehyde and its effects on the body in the coming years.   

Nicotine 

Vaping products will, almost universally, have a lower nicotine content than traditional cigarettes. Existing evidence also suggests that the risk and severity of nicotine dependency are much lower. However, we should add that while nicotine is lower in almost every case, experienced vapers using modified equipment can reach similar nicotine levels as a traditional cigarette.

Overall, 70% of young people surveyed used nicotine vapes, but only half described it as ‘always'. The other half used nicotine vapes 'sometimes, and 20.4% reported consistently using nicotine-free products. 

If they are using nicotine, young people generally use lower levels, but overall it's higher than adults. Legal guidelines in the UK restrict nicotine content in vape juice to 20mg/mL, but juice with a higher content is still widely available. A reported 64% of young people used under 20mg/mL, with 17.2% using between 20 mg/mL and 49mg/mL and 5.6% reporting 50mg/mL or over. 

With adults, the overall nicotine usage was higher at 87%. At the same time, the levels appeared much lower, with only 0.9% of adults surveyed reporting using vapes with content over the legal maximum of 20 mg/ml.  

Harm Perceptions

The perceived addiction levels were noticeably different between smokers and vapers. Just under half of young vapers said they did not feel addicted to vaping, while 52% said they felt a little or very addicted. 

These figures are substantially lower than the 83% who felt addicted to smoking. In 2021, only 34% of adults accurately believed that smoking was worse for you than vaping. 

Vaping Devices 

There have been some substantial changes in device popularity in recent years. In 2021, just 7.8% of young people surveyed used disposable vape devices, while tanks were the most common. In a remarkable turnaround, in 2022, 52.8% of 11 to 18-year-olds used disposable vapes, while 18.7% used tanks. 

While plenty of new models have emerged, it's difficult to pinpoint why this may be the case. Could it be an astonishingly quick shift in fashion? 

Unsurprisingly, disposable vapes are also the leading choice for beginners, with their convenience and discretion playing a significant role.  

Tank vapes remained much more popular among adults, used by 64.3% of people surveyed. Modular vaping products, where people combine different parts from other devices, were next with 20.1%, followed by 14.9% who used cartridge models.  

Reasons for Vaping 

The reasons for vaping differ between adults and young people. Among adults, 27.9% said they were vaping to quit smoking, while 17.7% said they did so to stay off smoking tobacco and 12.6% simply to enjoy it. 

Among young people new to vaping, the leading reason for trying it was predictably to ‘give it a try’, which accounted for 48.8%, followed by ‘liking the flavours’ with 37.2%. Those who had smoked before but had switched to vaping, harm reduction and smoking cessation ranked highly.     

Vaping Frequency 

Regular use of vapes has increased across all categories, although it remains much lower with young people. Among former smokers surveyed, 57% said they vaped every day, while for those who smoke and vape, 27% reported vaping daily. 

With young people, only 3.1% of respondents reported regular vaping (more than once a week). Another 3.9% reported using less than once a week (occasional use), while just under half of those said they had tried an e-cigarette once or twice (experimental use).

Access to Vaping Products 

Though selling vapes and vape liquids to those under 18 is illegal in the UK, it still clearly happens. Surveys revealed 46.5% of young people purchased e-cigarettes from physical shops, while 69.4% said they used their first vape via a peer or family member. 

Online purchases accounted for 10% of vape sales amongst the youth market, with 17.8% saying they purchased their vapes from friends.  

Frequently Asked Questions

What Number of People Vape in the UK?

According to data published in 2021, the number of people who vape in the UK ranges from approximately 6.9% to 7.1% of adults, equivalent to around 3.1 to 3.2 million individuals. Among 11 to 18-year-olds, 8.6% consider themselves regular or occasional vapers, with 52.8% opting for disposable vapes.

Why Is Vaping So Popular in the UK? 

Vaping has become so popular in the UK because of several factors, with the leading cause being the fall in traditional smoking. Fewer people than ever smoke traditional tobacco products, and as people learn of the lower risks associated with vaping, that figure will most likely continue to fall. 

Yet vaping's popularity can't simply be tied to a drop in smoking. Vaping has become a part of the cultural scene, which is why youth use is surging. Many people now consider smoking dirty and archaic compared to vaping. 

With new technologies allowing for more convenience and choice, the percentage of vape users in the UK will likely change. Keep an eye out for those changes here. 




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