One hour of social media a day ‘doubles risk of vaping and smoking among children’

Using social media for just one hour a day doubles a child’s chance of smoking or vaping, a new study has suggested.

The study – published in the BMJ – found that the longer young people spent on social media, the greater the chance of them smoking or vaping.

For example, children and young people who used platforms including Tiktok, Instagram and X (formerly Twitter) for an hour a day were 95% more likely to smoke than those who did not use the platforms at all. 

In addition, those who used social media for between one and three hours a day were 92% more likely to vape than those who did not use it.

Only 1% of those aged 10 to 25 who did not use social media smoked or vaped. This compared with 2% if they used it for around an hour a day.

The research looked at the social media use and smoking and vaping habits of 10,800 people in the UK. All were aged between 10 and 25. In total, 8.6% of the group smoked cigarettes, 2.5% used vapes and 1% used both.

As the study was observational, no firm conclusions can be drawn about causal factors.

‘Algorithmically targeted’

Dr Nick Hopkinson is a professor of respiratory medicine at Imperial College and first author of the paper. He suggested that advertisements and promotions could be behind the findings.

He said: ‘First, and most straightforwardly, there is evidence that the corporations behind cigarette smoking and vaping make use of social media to advertise and promote their products.

‘This includes direct advertising which is algorithmically targeted and the use of paid social media influencers who present smoking and vaping as a fashionable and desirable activity.

‘Second, social media use has been shown to have features in common with reward-seeking addictive behaviour. High social media use may increase susceptibility to other addictive behaviours like smoking.’

He added that the absence of adult supervision on social media could also have an impact.

‘Third, as a space that is largely unsupervised by parents/caregivers, social media use may encourage behaviours that are transgressive, including cigarette smoking and vaping,’ he added.

Vape sponsorship in sport

This comes as an MP called on the government to ban vape brands from sponsoring sports kits to help tackle youth vaping.

Blackburn Rovers FC has faced criticism by MPs for its sponsorship deal with vape brand Totally Wicked. The brand is currently the football team’s front of shirt sponsor. The pair have been in partnership for six seasons.

St Helens Rugby Football Club is also sponsored by the vape brand – its stadium is called the Totally Wicked Stadium.

The issue was brought up in parliament earlier this month by SNP MP Kirsten Oswald. She said: ‘We already know that more than one in five teenagers are vaping, with some experts describing this as an epidemic.

‘New research suggested that teenagers who vape could be at risk of exposure to toxic metals, potentially harming brain or organ development.’

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