Teenagers and young adults who use e-cigarettes are not more likely to take up smoking, a study has found, despite previous research suggesting a gateway effect.
The study from University College London (UCL) researchers found no significant relationship between the use of e-cigarettes and smoking, after looking at e-cigarette use and the use of traditional tobacco products in 16- to 24-year-olds in England between 2007 and 2018.
This contradicts previous observational research suggesting young vapers were prone to taking up smoking, but the UCL scientists said these findings may be because people who use e-cigarettes have ‘characteristics or a social environment’ that also makes them more likely to smoke.
Instead, the UCL researchers reasoned that if the gateway effect existed, there should have been an increase in the number of people smoking across the population alongside the rise in vaping.
Yet they found no statistically significant association between the prevalence of e-cigarette use and ever having smoked regularly among those aged 16 to 24, although they were not able to rule out ‘very small effects’ where e-cigarettes may either encourage or discourage smoking.
‘Rule out e-cigarette gateway effect’
Dr Emma Beard, lead author, said: ‘These findings suggest that the large gateway effects reported in previous studies can be ruled out, particularly among those aged 18 to 24. However, we cannot rule out a smaller gateway effect and we did not study younger age groups.’
Meanwhile, Professor Lion Shabab, senior author, said the findings were ‘important’ because of the ‘contrasting advice given by health bodies and governments in different countries’.
He continued: ‘Research to date supports the argument that e-cigarettes are less harmful than tobacco and help smokers to stop smoking. Although some harm from vaping relative to never vaping cannot be ruled out, this study suggests there is little evidence of a substantial gateway effect into smoking.’
However, an observational study published in January found young adults who are exposed to second-hand e-cigarette vapour at home have an increased risk of bronchitic symptoms and shortness of breath.