Vaping skeptics have long worried that e-cigarettes could serve as a “gateway” to tobacco smoking, and they claim that flavored e-liquids may attract non-smoking youth to the habit.
Do E-Cigs Really Serve as a Gateway to Smoking?
Fortunately, all research so far has proven these fears to be absolutely false. Unfortunately, misleading news coverage and mixed messages from health organizations are only making things more confusing for the general public. Let’s muddle through the research.
The Media’s Misleading Spin on E-Cig Studies
Organizations like the Center for Disease Control, Still Blowing Smoke, Truth and ASH have all touted the gateway myth based on some misleading research studies. Reports on such studies normally carry sensational headlines that fail to tell the whole story; for example, a recent BBC article titled “E-cigarette Use by Children Concerns Fueled by Research” reports that a whopping 6 percent of children have tried e-cigs. Of this tiny number, the article claims, “The vast majority of children who had tried e-cigarettes had never tried tobacco,” which seems to contradict the gateway narrative. Notably, this same study found that most of the children who had tried cigarettes have parents who smoke, so parental behavior seems to be a greater determining factor.
News outlets and government agencies aren’t alone; even “reputable” academic institutions are spreading misleading information based on hazy evidence. An article on the University of California at San Francisco’s website opens with, “E-cigarettes may be a new route to conventional smoking and nicotine addiction for teenagers;” however, if you make it more than halfway through the article, you may notice the caveat, “The study’s cross-sectional nature didn’t allow the researchers to identify whether most youths initiated with conventional cigarettes or e-cigarettes.” In fact, researchers found that many students who tried e-cigs hadn’t tried tobacco cigarettes, and those who did were in the process of trying to quit smoking cigarettes. Where in the world did the researchers get that e-cigs were a gateway to tobacco use?
Numbers from the CDC do seem to indicate that more youth are trying e-cigs, which is concerning to White Cloud because we want to keep e-cigs away from minors, but this fact does not verify that e-cigs are a gateway to tobacco use. A Washington Post article sheds some perspective on the issue by interviewing Cynthia Cabrera, spokesperson of the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association. She claims that most minors who try e-cigs have tried traditional cigarettes first, adding, “We need to not lose perspective about the potential these products have to eliminate harm from combusted tobacco,” and, “Anytime someone is not smoking a cigarette, that’s a good thing.”
Boston University School of Public Health professor Michael Siegel echoed her sentiment, asserting, “The CDC should really be jumping for joy at the fact that smoking rates are declining.” The fact that e-cigs could be diverting teens from using cigarettes, “is a good thing,” he says.
An Alternate Version of the Truth
Credible research reveals what vaping advocates have been saying for years: Most people use e-cigs to cut down on tobacco use or to quit smoking altogether, and very few non-smokers ever consider trying e-cigs. Citing a Welsh study, the World Health Organization agrees, “e-cigarettes are unlikely to make a major direct contribution to adolescent nicotine addiction at present.”
Studies in the U.S. also contradict the CDC’s anti-vaping campaign. According to The Wall Street Journal, a University of Oklahoma survey suggests that only one out of every 1,300 students who tried e-cigs became tobacco cigarette smokers, which is a number that is hardly statistically significant. Harvard also published study results in the journal Tobacco Control claiming that only 1 percent of non-smokers ever try e-cigs.
Why All the Fuss?
White Cloud very strongly believes that e-cigs are for adults, which is why we have always maintained a strong policy of selling only to adults. In fact, we have gone further than any other online e-cig distributor by partnering with LexisNexis to create a reliable age verification system for Internet sales. That said, we advocate for international polices founded on science and research, rather than fear. Rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water, perhaps we should further regulate the e-cig market to keep them out of the hands of youth and work toward perfecting their use as a smoking cessation tool.