One in five teenagers in north-west England has bought or used e-cigarettes, according to a study by Liverpool John Moores University.

The university asked more than 16,000 boys and girls aged between 14 and 17 about their e-cigarette usage, which was "strongly" linked to drinking among teenagers.

Of those who used e-cigarettes, 16% had never smoked, 23% had tried smoking but did not like it and 36% were regular smokers, reported the journal BMC Public Health.

According to a BBC report, researchers said e-cigarettes were the "alcopops of the nicotine world" and needed tougher controls.

Researchers now fear e-cigarettes are an attractive drug choice among young people, rather than a smoking cessation aid.

Public Health England

Professor Mark Bellis, of Liverpool John Moores University, who conducted the survey, said there now needs to be tighter regulations on the sale of e-cigarettes to young people.

"Despite being practically unheard of just a decade ago, e-cigarettes are now widely available, heavily promoted, yet weakly regulated and our study found that one in five 14 to 17-year-old school children in the north west has accessed them," he said, according to the Daily Mail.

"Such rapid penetration into teenage culture of what is essentially a new drug-use option is without precedent.

"Of particular concern is our finding that teenage ex-smokers who accessed e-cigarettes were outnumbered by those who had never smoked but simply decided to experiment with what might be packaged to look like a safe, attractive product but actually contains a highly addictive drug."

Kelly Evans from Social Change UK conducted a study in 2014 involving girls aged 11 to 12 in North Wales and found advertising in e-cigarettes promoted them as cool products, not as a device to give up smoking. She found some offered flavours such as strawberry milkshake and gummy bear to attract youngsters.

"My research with young people and children shows they are tempted by these flavours," she said.

What is an e-cigarette?

Electronic cigarettes (also known as e-cigarettes or electronic nicotine delivery systems)
were invented in China in 2003 and designed to provide inhaled doses of vaporised nicotine.
Electronic cigarettes were first introduced to Europe in 2005 and have become increasingly popular since.

Electronic cigarettes are composed of a re-chargeable lithium ion battery, and a battery-powered atomiser which produces vapour by heating a solution of nicotine, usually in propylene glycol or glycerine, held in a (often refillable) cartridge in the device.

Drawing air through the e-cigarette triggers the heater to create vapour which contains nicotine and is inhaled by a smoker the same way as smoke from conventional cigarettes.

Producing nicotine vapour from a solution rather than by burning tobacco means that electronic cigarette vapour is free from almost all of the many toxic chemicals that accompany nicotine in cigarette smoke.

Not all electronic cigarettes include nicotine; some simply produce vapour for inhalation, but these are not popular among users.

Source: Public Health England