Vaping is a gateway to smoking. Vaping is NOT a gateway to smoking. Most people only had to wait a month before one study questioned the findings of the last study.
Vaping is a contentious issue. Some see vaping and vaporizers the same way they see cigarettes – a potentially lethal and destructive habit.
While many people agree that vaping does not carry the same health hazards as smoking cigarettes, they nevertheless fear that vaping and vaporizers act as gateways to smoking. They see vaporizers as the stepping stone for young people to make the transition to cigarettes.
In the past year, two studies have come out that together have created more confusion than having provided clarity on the topic of e-cigarettes. One study’s conclusion was decidedly anti-vaping since it claimed to show evidence of young people moving to cigarette smoking after trying an e-cigarette.
The second study, however, said that the evidence proved the opposite – that there is no proof to show that e-cigarette use gradually leads to smoking combustible cigarettes. A member of the public is then left to decide for themselves which study they believe.
There were actually two studies that showed vaping as a gateway to cigarette smoking:
E-Cigarette Use as a Predictor of Cigarette Smoking:
- This paper was authored by researchers at the University of Michigan.
- It was a follow-up study that had previously questioned 12th graders on their smoking (both e-cigarettes and cigarettes) habits.
- The study found that for teenagers who never smoked but who had tried an e-cigarette were four times more likely to have smoked in the year past.
- The study also found that never-smokers who had tried an e-cigarette were, again, four times more likely to scale back the dangers posed by regular cigarette smoking
Association of Electronic Cigarette Use With Initiation of Combustible Tobacco Product Smoking in Early Adolescence:
- This study was also a follow-up study that had previously surveyed teenagers on their smoking habits.
- The researchers set out to find whether never-smoked e-cigarette users had started using other tobacco products in the 12 months after the initial survey.
- The study found that teenagers who had used e-cigarettes at the beginning of the study were more likely to “initiate contact” with a combustible tobacco product in the 12 months following the initial survey.
According to these studies, e-cigarettes seem to be a harbinger of doom. E-cigarettes, according to these studies, do not only lead to young people taking up smoking, but they also erase over 50 years of public health education on the dangers of smoking cigarettes.
The University of Michigan study found that e-cigarettes “desensitize” young people into believing combustible smoking products pose no health risks.
But instead of attacking these studies as anti-vaping propaganda, (both studies were peer-reviewed and came from reputable universities and researchers) there is more to gain by reviewing the author’s’ methodology and findings, which is what one researcher did.
Professor Lynn Kozlowski of the University of Buffalo provided a powerful takedown of both studies. She was quick to point out how researchers wrongly equated casual “just one puff” smokers with a daily smoking habit.
“It is as if an apple researcher thought ‘taking at least one bite of an apple in the past six months’ was an important measure of initiation of apple eating,” Kozlowski went on to write. The quotation was in reference to how researchers conflated a student taking a few puffs of a cigarette as a “daily smoking” habit.
Going Another Direction
In her response to the other studies, Kozlowski also drew attention to one particular data set that right away called the other studies’ findings into question. While it is true that e-cigarette use has gone up in the United States, the overall smoking rate among all age groups has been in decline for decades.
To then say that e-cigarettes lead to more young people starting smoking is not supported by the evidence that shows smoking rates have gone down. Kozlowski also deftly points to the history of “gateway” studies, which gained popularity in the 1950s when legislators equated marijuana use with heroin use to justify harsh punishments for users of both.
Ultimately, Kozlowski says that researchers are going in the wrong direction. Instead of trying to find the gateway from e-cigarettes to combustible cigarettes, scientists should be looking at how many people switch from combustibles to e-cigarettes.
Kozlowski does mention the need for more study, as did the authors of the previous studies. The other take away from the paper by Kozlowski was that concern over whether young people are using e-cigarettes should not distract from how effective e-cigarettes can be to help adult smokers quit, which is one of the studies that should be done, according to Kozlowski.