Over a fifth of Edinburgh students say they are addicted to Elf Bars

‘I buy a couple per week’

21 per cent of students in Edinburgh say they are addicted to Elf Bar vapes, according to a new survey by The Tab.

This is the joint-lowest figure of all UK universities, with higher proportions of self-declared addiction among students at universities including Birmingham (27 per cent), Nottingham (29 per cent), Oxford Brookes (32 per cent), and Coventry (35 per cent).

However, nearly half of students in the Scottish capital have used the branded vapes since September 2022 (49 per cent), compared to the national high of 67 per cent at Oxford Brookes, with Cambridge University reporting the lowest degree of usage at 26 per cent.

Around two-fifths of Edinburgh students only use Elf Bars in social settings compared to just under a third who use them on a daily basis.

On average across the UK, 27 per cent of students admitted being addicted to the disposable vapes whilst more than half of students (53 per cent) have used an Elf Bar since the start of term in September.

The Tab carried out the first survey designed to measure the use of Elf Bars by students in the UK, gathering responses from over 18,000 students at 24 universities via individual Instagram accounts run by The Tab’s local teams of student journalists. Figures were only recorded from a university if there were at least 100 respondents to the question asked.

Over half of Edinburgh’s students did not smoke before they began using Elf Bars, which are designed to reduce nicotine addiction over time and eventually allow people to quit smoking.

Speaking to The Tab, Dr Lion Shahab, professor of health psychology at University College London and co-director of UCL’s Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group said the stats were “somewhat concerning” because vapes are intended to be a “harm reduction product” for those already addicted to smoking.

He says he is not surprised by the survey’s findings, as his own department’s research found a 56 per cent increase in the number of 18 year olds vaping between January 2021 and April 2022.

In Edinburgh, 16 per cent of students report they consume an Elf Bar in the course of just one day or one night out, and a similar proportion buy one more than twice per week.

The Tab has spoken to students across the country to find out why Elf Bars are so popular. Lucy* is a final year student at the University of Edinburgh, who said: “I would probably say I’m addicted to Elf Bars, I buy a couple per week”.

“I try and keep it to social settings, but that’s not always the case. There’s definitely been an increase in the number of people using them in the last few years – Elf Bars feel more socially acceptable than older more conventional e-cigarettes”, she added.

A range of findings from UK universities show variation in this figure, as 30 per cent of students at Durham University get through Elf Bars in just one day or night out.

Although the rising use of vapes among non-smokers has caused concern, Public Health England has found e-cigarettes to be 95 per cent less harmful for your health than smoking.

The trend of increasing use of Elf Bars among students across the country is clear. Mia* is a final year student at Bristol University, and says: “Everyone I know believes it’s just a uni thing for them, they are stuck in this very temporary mindset.”

Emily*, who studies at the University of Manchester, bought her first Elf Bar around a year ago, and now gets through one in two days.

Dr Shahab said: “To some degree, it doesn’t surprise me that increasingly quite a lot of students might be using [Elf Bars] but what does surprise me though, is that a lot of them obviously have never smoked.

“Up until the introduction of these new disposable devices, I would have thought we were striking the right balance. Use was very low among young people and mainly restricted to smokers.

“However, in this context, with the huge proliferation of use among never smoking students, I do think that that we may have to pivot a bit in terms of our approach to how we deal with this.”

Elf Bar has been approached for comment. 

*Names have been changed.

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