A common criticism of vaping is that it can act as a gateway to traditional smoking.
That belief is already being challenged by comprehensive surveys, experts in tobacco addiction and in-depth research articles.
Challenging the “vaping gateway myth”
In the United States, public figures have talked about the risks of vaping and the vaping gateway and young people, despite a lack of evidence or studies to support the claim. (In this interview, for instance, a representative of the Centre for Disease Control says that teens are vaping and then smoking, but gives no figures or studies to back up this theory.)
Dr Michael Siegel wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal recently debunking this myth. Dr Siegel is certainly qualified to weigh in on the subject: he is a Professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences, Boston University School of Public Health and has 25 years of experience in the field of tobacco control.
Siegel wrote a follow-up to the article in his blog:
“By promoting a message that flies in the face of the government’s own statistics—which show a sharp decline in youth smoking concurrent with a dramatic increase in e-cigarette experimentation—some federal public health officials appear to be trying to create a ‘gateway’ narrative where none exists.”
The decrease in smoking prevalence
In another post, Siegel uses the CDC’s own surveys to disprove their theory, saying:
“If the gateway hypothesis were correct, we would be starting to see an increase in smoking prevalence…due to the many new smoking initiates that were converted from e-cigarette experimentation to smoking.”
Siegel has expanded his theory on another occasion to include data from UK surveys, where he says that traditional smoking among young people is at a historic low. He then speculates as to why people would find it difficult to move from vaping to traditional cigarettes, comparing the harsh taste of cigarettes to the milder, sweeter vaping products:
“It is difficult enough to enjoy the initial experiences with tobacco cigarettes, but it would be expected to become that much less enjoyable if one has become accustomed to a flavoured nicotine product like electronic cigarettes.”
E-cigarette flavours appeal to older adults
Even more compelling is the separate survey published in Forbes which found that adults embrace the sweet flavoured vaping products, not teens (as had been speculated).
In fact, the survey of over 10,000 vapers found that one particular sweet flavour had an average consumer age in the late-40s.
The same article reported that vaping helps people move away from traditional cigarettes, as opposed to encouraging them to take up smoking:
“The new survey also provides further evidence that e-cigarettes help smokers quit, a proposition that [anti-vaping politician] Jay Rockefeller and other critics question. Eighty-nine percent of the respondents reported that they had smoked at least 10 cigarettes a day before they started vaping, and 88 percent said they were not currently smokers.”
Why would vapers switch back to smoking?
There’s nothing to suggest that people who vape will then switch to the more expensive, less socially acceptable and dangerous form of traditional smoking. This article analyses the US CDC’s report on vaping, and says:
“Unfortunately, the CDC and many in the anti-smoking community could not resist linking increased use of electronic cigarettes among the youth population to the dangers of traditional tobacco smoking and to suggest that the e-cig industry is calloused towards concern for the safety of children, a claim that is not supported by the facts or by the application of common sense principles.”
Siegel’s Wall Street Journal article concludes that governments have:
“An obligation to carefully scrutinize any new consumer product that is presented as an alternative to smoking. But government agencies and public health officials have no business discouraging or disparaging e-cigarettes in the absence of any data that they are causing harm. This is especially the case when these products have so much potential to curb cigarette smoking, the public health scourge that still claims half a million lives a year.”