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    Gen Z drives significant rise in non-cigarette tobacco smoking

    Photo: iStock

    There are around five times more people smoking non-cigarette tobacco in England now than there were a decade ago, according to a new study led by UCL researchers.

    The research, funded by Cancer Research UK and published in Nicotine and Tobacco Research, revealed that in 2013, there were around 151,200 exclusive users of non-cigarette tobacco such as cigars, cigarillos, pipes and shisha, but by September 2023, this figure had risen to around 772,800.

    Strikingly, the greatest increase was seen in 18-year-olds.

    The non-cigarette tobacco smoking prevalence was relatively stable up to February 2020, at an average of 0.46 per cent, then increased sharply at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, to 0.90 per cent in March 2020.

    This was followed by a steadier rise, peaking at 1.97 per cent in May 2022, before falling slightly to 1.68 per cent by September 2023. In 2022-23, one in ten smokers (10.8 per cent) exclusively used non-cigarette tobacco.

    The study cites the widespread concern about cigarette smoking worsening coronavirus symptoms as one of the possible causes of the increase, prompting people to switch to products they perceived as being less harmful. Financial difficulties may have also caused people to switch from cigarettes to cheaper options, researchers concluded.

    The menthol cigarette ban in May 2020 did not apply to non-cigarette tobacco products, so those who prefer this flavour may have switched to other products that were not included in the ban, they added.

    The rise in prevalence was observed across all subgroups but was most pronounced among younger adults, reaching 3.21 per cent of 18-year-olds vs. 1.09 per cent of 65-year-olds.

     “This 10-year-long study captures the shift in trends of non-cigarette tobacco use and paints a concerning picture. Although rates of cigarette smoking have fallen, our data show there has been a sharp rise in use of other smoked tobacco products, particularly among young people,” lead author Dr Sarah Jackson, of UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, said.

    The government is expected to present legislation to Parliament to increase the age of sale of tobacco products, which will mean anyone born on or after January 1, 2009, will never be able legally to be sold tobacco products.

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