An estimated 9.1% of young people in Thailand use e-cigarettes, mostly due to peer pressure and the influence of their friends, according to the results of a survey by the Department of Health Service Support (DHSS).
The survey was conducted on 61,688 people nationwide between April 25 and June 6. The results showed that 14.6% of young people in Bangkok use vapes, ranking the capital the highest among the 13 areas studied, said DHSS chief Sura Wisetsak.
Vaping devices are illegal in the country but are sold widely at street stalls, especially in popular tourist areas.
Second on the list were two areas where the comparative rate stood at 13.6%. One is labelled AH (Area Health) No.3 -- comprising the provinces of Chai Nat, Kamphaeng Phet, Nakhon Sawan, Pichit and Uthai Thani -- and the other AH No.9 -- made up of Chaiyaphum, Nakhon Ratchasima, Burirum and Surin.
The rate was marginally lower at 13.2% in AH No.4, which comprises Ayutthaya, Lop Buri, Saraburi, Sing Buri, Ang Thong, Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani and Nakhon Nayok.
In AH No.5 -- Bueng Kan, Loei, Nong Khai, Nong Bua Lam Phu, Udon Thani, Nakhon Phanom and Sakon Nakhon -- the rate was still deemed alarmingly high at 12%.
Dr Sura said 92.2% of the young people surveyed said they started using e-cigarettes with their friends, 3.2% with extended family members and 1.6% with their immediate family.
Meanwhile, some 43.9% said they smoke both cigarettes and vapes.
Citing the results of another study, Surachete Phosaeng, deputy secretary-general of the Thailand Youth Institute (TYI), said that of 300 young people detained for narcotic use in 39 juvenile practice and training centres and detention centres nationwide, 95.4% smoke cigarettes, while 79.3% smoke e-cigarettes. Among the latter, 30.5% use them daily.
Of that group, 80.7% said cigarettes and vapes were the first products they had become physically addicted to, while 76% said they had subsequently gone on to experiment with narcotics.
Wannapha Narawet from the Tobacco Control Research and Knowledge Management Centre said minors who use vaping devices may develop faster-growing and more intense health concerns than adults, as they are still in the developmental stage.
Due to the risks associated with smoking and also passive smoking, Dr Sura urged young people to ignore their peers and avoid smoking any tobacco products or e-cigarettes.
Samart Thirasak, deputy chief of the DHSS, said that the department had launched media and other campaigns in order to discourage young people from taking up smoking, as well as with the support of the Young Health Volunteers group.