The number rose by 13 million in a year; global health organizations accused of neglecting lower income countries and not facilitating safer nicotine alternatives in those regions where most of the world’s smokers live.
The total number of vapers globally stood at 81 million in 2021, according to the latest estimation by the Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction (GSTHR) project, which maps the availability and use of safer nicotine products and the public health potential of tobacco harm reduction at the national, regional and global level. In 2021, the GSTHR project published the first ever worldwide estimate of the number of vapers, which stood at 68 million in 2020.
There has been rapid uptake of nicotine vaping products in some countries in Europe and in North America. In the UK the proportion of the adult population using nicotine vaping products rose from 1.7% in 2012 to 7.1% in 2019.
Data from the UK suggest a substitution effect, whereby many people who consume nicotine are choosing safer products. Nicotine vaping products are now the main tool that smokers use when they want to quit cigarettes in England. Research has also shown they are more successful than other methods.
GSTHR has been collecting information on the prevalence of nicotine vaping as well as other safer nicotine products (SNP) categories since 2018. The project maps the global, regional and national availability and use of SNP, the regulatory responses to them, and the public health potential of tobacco harm reduction.
Information is collected from the literature and a network of national and regional correspondents across 201 countries (262 including territories and significant within-country regions). The GSTHR database compiles country-based information over time and product categories.
Compared to previous estimates, the 2021 figure shows a significant growth. According to the GSTHR estimate global number of vapers in 2021 is 81.9 million. The growth has been identified by GSTHR as “a significant but expected increase”.
The increase is mainly accounted for by growth in North American and Western European markets. In higher income countries, the major debates about nicotine vaping are centred on the perceived threat of vaping products to young people, while ignoring their significant harm reduction potential for current adult smokers, the GSTHR briefing paper on the data notes.
The paper harshly criticized global health organizations, vaping product manufacturers and other SNP producers, accusing them of neglecting the potential of safer nicotine products in low and middle-income countries (LMIC) where 80% of the world’s 1.1bn smokers live.
“With little or no access to smoking cessation support, citizens of LMIC are disproportionately affected by smoking-related death and disease, which under-resourced and overstretched health systems are poorly equipped to diagnose and treat,” it stated.