TikTok needs to implement tighter restrictions on under 18s’ ability to watch videos that promote e-cigarettes, as vaping continues to increase among this age group, researchers have said.
The video-sharing site — which is most popular among teens — says the advertising of tobacco and alcohol products is currently banned. It also says it restricts the uploading of videos that show ‘the depiction, promotion, or trade of drugs or other controlled substances’.
Yet, according to research published in the BMJ’s journal Tobacco Control, there are at least 808 videos featuring vapes on the social media network, which have been viewed over 1.5 billion times.
Not only are minors watching the videos, but many are thought to be participating and creating them. According to the study, 26% of vaping videos featured people who ‘appeared to be under 18’.
The study also found that the majority (63%) of the videos posted portrayed e-cigarettes positively and were collectively watched over 290 million times.
Other research, published in JAMA, suggests that e-cigarette use among US high school students has risen substantially over the last few years from around 9% in 2014 to over 27% in 2019.
It is also thought that vaping could have a significant impact on the development of major organs such as the brain, lungs, and heart.
In response, researchers said there is an ‘urgent need to consider age restrictions to reduce youth uptake.’
Although the researchers could not determine the exact effect these videos had on viewers, they pointed to previous studies that suggested that exposure to vaping related content among youth is ‘associated with e-cigarette use’.
They added: ‘Experimental and longitudinal data suggest that viewing other young people, friends, acquaintances or influencers vaping in fun and entertaining contexts, is likely to normalise e-cigarette use and make it a behaviour to emulate.’
Earlier this week, public health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) published interim findings on how reducing colourful branding on e-cigarette packaging could reduce their appeal to children.
It also criticised the Government for delaying the publication of its review of e-cigarette and tobacco regulations, which was due back in May.
In June, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) advised a ‘precautionary’ approach to e-cigarettes, despite NICE draft guidance suggesting vaping is an effective method of smoking cessation.