Yet another vaping myth busted – this time by scientists
Google the word “vaping” on any day and you can bet that high on the list of results will be unsubstantiated tabloid articles about how vaping leads to more young people taking up cigarette smoking.
The vaping community get incredibly frustrated by all the media negativity around e-cigarettes, and firmly believe that, if vaping is a gateway to anything, it’s OUT of smoking and should be endorsed as a smoking cessation tool far and wide.
This is why we’re pleased to see new research from University College London and published in the much-respected New Scientist magazine that largely debunks the theory that e-cigarettes are creating a nation of young nicotine addicts. In a recent analysis of trends in cigarette and e-cigarette use in 16 to 24-year-olds in England, it states quite categorically that vaping doesn’t appear to be a gateway to smoking tobacco.
Is it genetic? Or peer pressure?
While acknowledging that there are studies that show teenagers who use vape mod kits have a greater probability of smoking, the new report points out that that doesn’t prove that the first behaviour causes the second. The report’s lead author, Professor Lion Shahab from UCL, said: “It could be the case that there’s a common vulnerability that explains this association. That could be, for instance, because there’s some genetic predisposition to try different things or there’s environmental pressure to try things.”
The report points out that those previous studies had focused on behaviour at an individual level rather than at the population level. In their study, Prof Shahab’s team looked at how the rate of smoking in 16 to 24-year-olds as a whole has changed over the last 11 years as vaping grew more popular. For a “gateway effect” to be real, then the researchers would have expected to see that, as vaping rates changed, there would be a corresponding rise in smoking rates.
Vaping reached 5% for this age group in 2013 and it has stayed around this figure. Yet the rates of regular smoking fell from about 30% in 2013 to 25% in 2018 (the last year of the study) for the same demographic.
Or is it the nicotine the kids want?
One of the main arguments against easing the rules on the sale of e-cigarettes is that it will get young people hooked on nicotine, prompting them to switch to traditional cigarettes for a faster nicotine hit. But Professor Bernd Mayer (toxicologist at the University of Graz & Scientific Advisor of the World Vapers’ Alliance) explains that “the effect [of nicotine] as a nerve poison … only occurs in the event of a massive overdose, which is not achieved with inhalation.”
In the absence of tobacco smoke, the potential for addiction to nicotine is very low, so most vapers feel much less addictive pressure than smokers. “In addition”, adds Mayer, “smokers do not die from their nicotine addiction but from the harmful effects of the ingredients in tobacco smoke.”
Moreover, the claim that non-smoking young people would get introduced en masse to smoking due to vaping seems not to be supported by data from an Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) UK report published in 2021. In their report Profile of 16/17 Year Old Smokers ASH found that “Regular use of e-cigarettes by 16/17-year-olds remains uncommon. In the 2020 survey, less than a fifth (17.1%) of respondents in this age group had tried an e-cigarette but only 2.1% used them every day.”
So the media trend for framing e-cigarettes as a gateway to smoking does not stand up to scrutiny. The lack of correlation between the increasing popularity of vaping and smoking rates only confirms that vaping is an important innovation to help people quit smoking, rather than a devious means to lead our youth astray. But since when have the media ever let the truth get in the way of a good headline?