More women than ever are vaping – what's driving the addictive Gen-Z trend?

One Elf Bar vape is the equivalent of 48 to 50 cigarettes.
Vaping Is A Rising Trend Amongst Gen Z Women
Illustration by Nicola Neville & Chelsea Hughes

If you've been outside (or on social media) lately, you've likely noticed an increase in vaping. At least, I know I have. As a uni student, I'm often guilty of succumbing to picking up a vape at the off-licence when stocking up on my weekly booze. Their bright colours and sweet smells are now a signature part of a night out.

But according to a new survey, more young women in the UK are vaping on a daily basis, with 6.7% of women aged 16 to 24 years using vapes compared with only 1.9% in 2021.

Like many gen-Zers, I've tried smoking but the ashy, burnt taste was not for me, and the thought of smoke swirling around my lungs? No thanks. But vapes – the Elf Bars brand specifically – are damn tasty. I now often find myself pairing the colour of my vape with my outfit as a fashion accessory for a trip to the pub. I also find myself shotting cheap tequila with no lime and salt, and using a vape as a sweet chaser. I have let this tasty, portable – and, let’s face it, quite nice-looking – companion into my life with no questions asked. It's like a one-night stand that I've let turn into a clingy relationship.

However, when I started reading horror stories online and people on TikTok with blatant vape addictions, I started to get a little concerned.

TikTok content

This content can also be viewed on the site it originates from.

Vaping is a growing phenomenon with more and more people making the switch to e-cigarettes in a bid to ditch tobacco cigarettes. Not only do they taste better, but they're considerably cheaper, too. Prices for vapes are as low as £4, whereas a pack of 20 Marlboro Gold are currently priced at £12.55 at Tesco. Then there's the A-list seal of approval, too, with celebrities including Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Moss and Lady Gaga having all been spotted vaping.

It's no wonder that Elf Bars have been plastered all over social media platforms in a variety of flavours and colours. The hashtag #elfbar currently has 697 million views on TikTok, while #vaping has 1.6 billion views.

In the UK, from January 2021 to January 2022, there was a 14-fold increase in the percentage of vapers that used disposables, which was most pronounced in younger adults: the use of disposable vapes in 18-year-old vapers rose from 0.89% to a staggering 56.7%, whilst among 45-year-old vapers the use of disposables rose from 1.3% to 6.2%.

While smoking tobacco was popular for Gen-Z's parents' generation – it wasn't until 1964 that a definitive report was published linking smoking to lung cancer – reports have shown that the recent increases in vaping have been directly associated with declining rates of youth smoking. It looks as though we're replacing smoking with vaping. And with one TikTok from Dr Onkar Mudhar claiming that smoking just one Elf Bar – which some uni students are getting through in a single night out – is the equivalent of “about 48 to 50 cigarettes” (as the bar contains two milligrams of nicotine salt which is equivalent to 20 milligrams of nicotine), are we replacing smoking with something possibly even more dangerous?

TikTok content

This content can also be viewed on the site it originates from.

“The hot vapour and nicotine from a vape can be harmful to your oral health,” says Amanda Sheehan, a dental hygienist, and clinical support specialist at TePe. “Nicotine, whether smoked or vaped, reduces blood flow to the gums, increasing the risks of gum disease and tooth loss.”

“It goes without saying that smoking is bad for your health, but something that is less commonly spoken about – or understood – is the impact that vaping has on oral health,” says Amanda Sheehan, a dental hygienist, and clinical support specialist at TePe. “The hot vapour and nicotine from a vape can be harmful to your oral health because nicotine – whether smoked or vaped – reduces blood flow to the gums, increasing the risks of gum disease and tooth loss. So, vaping puts you at a higher risk of developing gum disease than if you don’t vape at all.

“Studies are currently ongoing as to whether vaping is as damaging to your gums as smoking, but anything that exposes your gums directly to heat and nicotine will make you more likely to develop gum disease and lose your teeth.”

Sheehan also points out that if your chosen vape flavour contains sugars, you'll be at a higher risk of developing cavities and tooth erosion. Your mouth also becomes dry when you vape, meaning your mouth’s natural protector, saliva, will be unable to do its job and leave your teeth more vulnerable to decay.

It's important to note here that the full risks associated with vaping are yet to be fully determined and, as Sheehan mentioned, are currently being investigated. Smoking tobacco has been subject to almost 60 years of scientific research, while vaping was only invented in 2003. Juul – a popular brand of e-cigarette – appeared in 2015, and arguably kickstarted the trend which have seen companies like Elf Bar follow suit.

“Vaping is thought to be a safer alternative to smoking, but vapes haven’t been around long enough to ascertain the long term risks,” says Abbas Kanani, a pharmacist at Chemist Click. “The main known risk with all nicotine-containing substances is that they raise your heart rate and blood pressure. This can increase the chances of a heart attack. The unknown risk lies within the ingredients such as the flavouring, and their unknown effects on the lungs long term.”

I'm certainly more conscious of how many vapes I've been buying, and I'm in the mindset of trying to cut down because of the concerns of gum disease and tooth decay. But it's as though vaping has become more socially acceptable than smoking.

When I'm in the smoking area on a night out at uni, there's a pretty even split between vapes and cigarettes. The difference is, if someone says: “Do you want a drag on my cigarette?”, the unanimous response is that of disgust. But sharing vapes has become as habitual as sharing TikToks. And due to the addictive nature of nicotine, I wouldn't be surprised if smoking areas are renamed in favour of their sweeter counterparts.

If you are concerned about your vaping habits, it's always recommended to book an appointment with your GP to discuss diagnosis and treatment. You can find your local GP here.