The persistent myth that e-cigarettes are a gateway to smoking received another blow from a new e-cig study from the Rutgers School of Public Health. After analyzing data from the 2014 National Health Interview survey, researchers discovered that rather than e-cigs being a gateway to smoking, the inverse is true: The vast majority of regular vapers are former smokers. This finding gives further credibility to the theory that e-cigs may help some people quit smoking.
Misleading Medical Research About E-Cigs
Sadly, news outlets continue to churn out misleading headlines like “Yep, e-cigarettes are a gateway to smoking” based on poorly interpreted data. As has been discussed in a previous post about e-cig research, the aforementioned Hutch News article summarizes results from a study with an embarrassingly small sample size that found a correlation between youth who tried vaping and youth who tried smoking. Of course, a correlation doesn’t prove causation; it only proves that kids who are likely to experiment with one thing are likely to experiment with another. On the other hand, there is substantial evidence that e-cigs are actually helping people smoke less.
Electronic Cigarettes: Gateway or Quitting Aid?
The recent Rutgers study, which was published in the Nicotine & Tobacco Research journal, was a joint venture between the School of Public Health and the Truth Initiative’s research arm, the Schroeder Institute. The authors claim that most people who reported using e-cigs daily in 2014 were current smokers or former smokers who had quit less than a year prior to the questionnaire.
Thirteen percent of all respondents who recently quit smoking used e-cigarettes daily, and only 3.5 percent of current smokers reported daily e-cig use. Adults older than 25 were far more likely to be regular vapers than people in the 18 to 24 age group. Adults who had never tried tobacco or who had quit smoking more than four years prior were very unlikely to use e-cigs. According to lead author Cristine Delnevo, “This is in line with other recent evidence that regular, daily e-cigarette use may help some smokers quit cigarettes.”
More Studies Suggesting E-cigs are Not a Gateway to Tobacco
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, experimentation with e-cigs among youth has been on the rise over the past few years, which is alarming because e-cigs are not for minors. However, most of those children are not making a regular habit of vaping, and they are not picking up smoking after vaping for the first time. A 2013 study from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center surveyed 1,300 college students about their nicotine habits and found that 43 percent of participants tried an e-cig as their first nicotine product. Of those respondents, only one reported ever regularly smoking cigarettes. As was the case in the Rutgers study, regular vapers tended to have started smoking cigarettes first.
A 2015 e-cig fact sheet put out by the U.K. group Action on Smoking and Health echoes the research in America. It’s introduction states, “Although children’s awareness of and experimentation with electronic cigarettes is increasing, regular use remains rare.” Additionally, the document notes that most youth who regularly vape are current or former smokers.
A 2015 study funded by Paris Sans Tabac, which interviewed 3,350 students from ages 12 to 19, found that e-cig experimentation had been on the increase, but it has slightly stabilized among French youth. Most importantly, 72 percent of students who tried vaping haven’t become regular e-cig users, while the percentage of youth who regularly vape has been dropping. Meanwhile, smoking rates are plummeting in every age category. If e-cigs were a gateway drug, shouldn’t smoking rates be increasing? The president of Tobacco-Free Paris, professor and pulmonologist Bertrand Dautzenberg, has declared, “electronic cigarettes are not a gateway to smoking for teens, but a substitute for tobacco cigarettes.” Another Harvard School of Public Health study also attributes declining smoking rates among youth to the increase in e-cig use.
In conclusion, instead of being a gateway to tobacco, e-cigs could actually provide an emergency exit from the smoking lifestyle. Future research must focus on the potential of e-cigs as smoking cessation devices.