Published in the online journal BMJ Open, the researchers from the Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvement (Decipher), at the University's School of Social Sciences base their findings on the results of two nationally representative surveys of primary and secondary schoolchildren from more than 150 schools, carried out in Wales in 2013 and 2014.
In all, 1601 children aged 10-11 and 9055 children aged 11-16 were quizzed about their use of e-cigarettes.
Use of e-cigarettes at least once was more common than having smoked a conventional cigarette among all age groups, except the oldest (15-16 year olds).
Some 5.8% of 10-11 year olds had tried e-cigarettes, compared to only 1.6% having smoked tobacco, while a sizeable proportion (12.3%) of 11-16 year olds said they had used e-cigarettes, irrespective of gender, ethnic background, or family affluence.
This contrasts with the patterns seen in smoking, where all these factors come into play, suggesting that e-cigarettes may have a wider appeal than tobacco among all sectors of the teen population, say the researchers.
Similarly, the proportion of children who had used e-cigarettes, but who had never smoked, rose from 5.3% among 10-11 year olds, to 8% among 15-16 year olds.
Only 1.5% (125) of those aged 11-16 said they used e-cigarettes regularly--defined as at least once a month. This included 0.3% of those who claimed they had never smoked conventional cigarettes.
Dr Graham Moore who led the research said: "While experimentation with e-cigarettes is becoming common among youth in Wales, these figures suggest that e-cigarettes are unlikely to make a major direct contribution to adolescent nicotine addiction at present."
The odds of regular use of e-cigarettes were 100 times higher among current weekly smokers than among non-smokers, and 50 times higher among those who had smoked cannabis.
The strong relationship between current smoking and e-cigarette use suggests that teens are not using these products to help them quit smoking, say the researchers.
"Although our study has provided an insight into the use of e-cigarettes, differences across studies in the questions used to measure e-cigarettes present something of a challenge for research in this area," added Dr Moore. "We should continue to monitor trends in young people's e-cigarette use closely as the products themselves and the landscapes in which they are bought and sold continue to evolve. Longer term studies to include the generation of young people who have grown up with e-cigarettes are needed before firmer conclusions can be drawn."
Notes for editors
1. The paper Electronic cigarette use among young people in Wales: evidence from two cross sectional surveys is available at: doi 10.1136/bmjopen-2014-007072
2. Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain's leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK's most research intensive universities. The 2014 Research Excellence Framework ranked the University 5th in the UK for research excellence. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, University Chancellor Professor Sir Martin Evans. Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University's breadth of expertise encompasses: the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; the College of Biomedical and Life Sciences; and the College of Physical Sciences and Engineering, along with a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning. Cardiff's flagship Research Institutes are offering radical new approaches to pressing global problems. http://www.
3. For further information contact:
Dr Graham Moore, Centre for the Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvement, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University.
Tel: + 44 2920 879164