Teenagers who have never smoked a cigarette are among those experimenting with the electronic versions
One in five teenagers aged 14 to 17 has tried or bought one according to new research.
Alarmingly 16 per cent of these had never otherwise smoked.
More than 16,000 students were surveyed by researchers from Liverpool John Moores University.
They asked the youngsters about their alcohol and tobacco use.
Experts also found that of the teenagers that had accessed e-cigarettes, 23 per cent had tried smoking but did not like it, 36 per cent were regular smokers, 12 per cent only smoked when drinking, and 14 per cent were ex-smokers.
The research has been published in the open access journal BMC Public Health.
The study also found that teenagers who drank alcohol were significantly more likely to have tried or used e-cigarettes than non-drinkers.
Study authors, Professor Karen Hughes, said: “We found that e-cigarette access is strongly related to alcohol use in teenagers.
“Those who drink are more likely to have accessed e-cigarettes than non-drinkers, regardless of whether they smoke normal cigarettes or not, and those who drink frequently, binge drink, drink to get drunk, drink strong alcohol products and show signs of unsupervised alcohol consumption are most likely to have accessed e-cigarettes.
“This suggests that e-cigarettes have rapidly become part of at-risk teenagers’ substance-using repertoires.”
Another of the study’s authors, Professor Mark Bellis, warned that such “rapid penetration into teenage culture of what is essentially a new drug-use option is without precedent.”
He added: “Our research suggests that we should be very concerned about teenagers accessing e-cigarettes.
“While debate on e-cigarettes has focused largely on whether or not they act as a gateway to tobacco cigarette use, e-cigarettes themselves contain a highly addictive drug that may have more serious and longer lasting impacts on children because their brains are still developing.”
E-cigarettes have been marketed as an alternative to smoking conventional cigarettes.
They produce vapour that is less harmful than cigarette smoke, but this usually contains nicotine, the addictive substance in cigarettes.
Research by Johns Hopkins University in the US published last month, showed that e-cigarettes generate toxic chemicals similar to those found in tobacco and may harm the lungs and immune system.
In January 2015, the government announced a ban on the sale of electronic cigarettes to under-18s in England.
It is thought similar measures are also being considered in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
An estimated 1.3m people in the UK use e-cigarettes which were designed to help smokers quit.