Children who use e-cigarettes regularly can struggle to get through a lesson or a family meal without vaping.

Professor Emily Banks, an Australian epidemiologist, told a Holyrood committee that nicotine dependency was a "serious harm" for young people and "set the scene" for addiction in adulthood.

While there is broad consensus that smoking is more dangerous for health, experts agree that the rise in non-smoking children and young people taking up vaping is concerning and action is required. 

In 2015, around 2% of 15-year-olds in Scotland were vaping, according to a health and wellbeing study, but this has risen to 25% by 2022. Smoking levels in that age group have dropped to around 4%.

"We are seeing nicotine addiction in children," said Prof Banks, who is head of the Centre of Epidemiology for Policy and Practice at Australian National University. The country has banned non-prescription vaping, although she acknowledged that enforcing this was difficult.

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf to consider ban on disposable vapes to combat 'threat'

 "We know that addiction to nicotine is a serious harm for young people and it tends to be because the brain is plastic at that age. Addiction in youth tends to set the scene and increase the risk of addiction in later life.

"We know that 52.1% of e-cigarette users who are 11-17 in the most recent Ash survey said they had moderate to extreme urges to vape. We certainly hear plenty of case reports of addiction. 

"My kids say I'm addicted to chocolate or this particular television programme but if you are addicted to nicotine - and nicotine is a highly addictive substance - you are going through a cycle of withdrawal and craving and irritability before you satisfy that urge. You can be going that many, many times a day because nicotine is rapidly metabolised.

"We have had kids who have difficulty sitting through a lesson or a meal with family who are experiencing addiction."

She said children who inhaled the products were being exposed to around 900 chemicals, the effects of which are largely unknown. 

READ MORE: 'Vaping industry is using our children as nicotine mules. We must fight back'

Westminster is looking at restricting sales of disposable vapes and a price increase as well as restricting flavours to make them less appealing to children. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has also vowed to create a "smoke-free generation" by making it an offence for anyone born on or after 1 January 2009.

Humza Yousaf, Scotland's First Minister, is also considering a ban on single-use vapes.

Prof Banks claimed the products were only beneficial for a "minority" and said the evidence is that most adults who give up smoking do so unaided.

She said: "We have to be careful we don't magnify the importance of e-cigarettes."

Dr Garth Reid, a consultant in public health, said he was in favour of a ban on disposable vapes as part of a package of measures that also includes plain packaging and advertising curbs. 

Other measures could include following Denmark's lead with a ban on flavourings and names, which are appealing to children.

"There's a big group of kids who are taking this up," said Dr Reid, who said children from affluent areas were also vaping and there was far less of a socioeconomic divide than observed with smoking.

"No country has cracked this. It's a new and emerging area.

"We have got an opportunity in Scotland. The country is small enough that we can get the necessary people together to tackle this."

Professor John Britton, Emeritus Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Nottingham and a former respiratory consultant said there had been five fatalities linked to vaping since 2010 and 1million deaths linked to smoking.

READ MORE: 'Skyrocketing' rise in shops selling vapes to minors 

He agreed that the rise in children vaping was concerning and is in favour of measures to discourage this.

Asked by Conservative MSP, Doctor Sandesh Gulhane if he thought vaping was safe, he said: "No, it's definitely not safe but it's not as harmful as smoking."

He said he had "no doubt" that vapes would be linked to cancer and heart disease in the future but believed the cases would be in the tens and hundreds.

Sheila Duffy, Chief Executive of ASH Scotland said there was "conclusive evidence" that e-cigarette aerosol contains particulate matter of the kind that is implicated in lung inflammation, DNA damage and "a subsequent risk of lung cancer."

The Health and Sport Committee is considering the evidence around the health implications of vaping.