Vaping is NOT a gateway to cigarettes

Vaping is NOT a gateway to cigarettes: Scientists find ‘little evidence vaping normalises smoking among teenagers’

  • Analysed smoking rates among 13-to-15 year olds over the past 17 years
  • While vaping has skyrocketed in popularity, cigarette use reduced by up to 73%
  • Teenagers who reported trying a cigarette as ‘OK’ fell from 70% to just 27% 
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Vaping may not be a gateway to smoking among teenagers after all, according to research. 

A new study goes some way to silencing fears e-cigarettes encourage young people to take up the dangerous habit. 

Researchers examined data on both smoking rates and attitudes towards cigarettes among 13-to-15 year olds over the past 17 years.

While vaping has skyrocketed in popularity, cigarette use among adolescents has reduced by up to 73 per cent. 

The scientists therefore concluded there is ‘little evidence’ e-cigarettes normalise smoking. 

Vaping may not be a gateway to smoking among teenagers, research suggests (stock)

The study was carried out by Cardiff University and led by Dr Britt Hallingberg, a research associate at the school of social sciences. 

Co-author Dr Graham Moore, a reader in the school of social sciences, said: ‘There was a marginal slowing in the decline in regular smoking during the period following 2010, when e-cigarettes were emerging but relatively unregulated.

‘However, these patterns were not unique to tobacco use and the decline in the acceptability of smoking behaviour among youth accelerated during this time.

‘These analyses provide little evidence that renormalisation of youth smoking was occurring during a period of rapid growth and limited regulation of e-cigarettes from 2011-to-2015.’

Since the first ‘modern’ e-cig was invented in the mid-2000s, vaping has become mainstream.

The habit reportedly peaked in 2011 before plateauing in 2013, the authors wrote in the journal Tobacco Control. 

Public-health experts remain divided on how safe vaping really is and the extent to which it should be regulated.

While Public Health England has ‘supported less restrictive policies’, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the US has a tighter approach, with vaping being banned in non-smoking places.

Concerns are highest among young vapers after animal studies suggested nicotine impairs brain development.

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And a common concern is teenagers who have never smoked may experiment with e-cigarettes after trying vaping.

‘Much success in maintaining a continuous downward trajectory in youth smoking in the past 20 years has been achieved through policies that aim to reverse the normalisation of smoking,’ the authors wrote.


The flavourings in electronic cigarettes may damage blood vessels in the same way as heart disease, according to research published in June. 

The chemicals used to give the vapour flavours, such as cinnamon, strawberry and banana, can cause inflammation in cells in the arteries, veins and heart.

They causes the body to react in a way that mimics the early signs of heart disease, heart attacks or strokes, the study by Boston University found. 

Other recent studies have also suggested smoking e-cigarettes could cause DNA mutations which lead to cancer, and enable pneumonia-causing bacteria to stick to the lungs easier. 

Researchers at New York University subjected human bladder and lung cells to e-cigarette vapor, which is marketed as being healthier than tobacco.

They found the cells mutated and became cancerous much faster than expected and mice exposed to the vapour also suffered significant DNA damage. 

In another study, scientists at Queen Mary University, London, found vaping makes users more likely to catch pneumonia – just like smoking tobacco or breathing in traffic fumes.

The vapour from e-cigarettes helps bacteria which cause the condition to stick to the cells that line the airways, they said.

The effect occurs with traditional cigarette smoke and those who are exposed to air pollution high in particulates from vehicle exhausts.  

‘The renormalisation hypothesis assumes that growing prevalence and visibility of e-cigarette use will reverse tobacco control successes through increasing the extent to which smoking is once again seen as a ‘normal’ behaviour.’ 

And the EU Tobacco Products Directive states: ‘Electronic cigarettes can develop into a gateway to nicotine addiction and ultimately traditional tobacco consumption, as they mimic and normalise the action of smoking.’

To test how e-cigarettes affect the uptake of smoking, the researchers analysed three national surveys with a total of 248,324 teenagers from England, Scotland or Wales. 

The adolescents were asked if they had ever smoked and, if they did or do, how often.

The surveys also set to uncover the teenagers’ attitudes towards smoking.

The were therefore asked questions like ‘do you think it is OK for someone your age to try a cigarette to see what it is like?’

Results revealed the number of 13-to-15 year olds who had ever smoked fell from 60 per cent to just 19 per cent between 1998 and 2015.

And regular smokers fell from 19 per cent to five per cent. 

Perceptions of smoking also changed over time, with the number who reported trying a cigarette as being ‘OK’ declining from 70 per cent to 27 per cent.  

‘Our results provide little evidence that renormalisation of smoking occurred during this period,’ the authors wrote. 

Dr Moore added: ‘What is more, positive perceptions of smoking attitudes declined at a faster rate following the proliferation of e-cigarettes, suggesting that attitudes towards smoking hardened while e-cigarettes were emerging rather than softening.’ 

But the results were not just limited to tobacco use.

Results further revealed the number of teens who had ever tried tobacco fell from 29 per cent to nine per cent.

And those who had ever drunk alcohol went down from 79 per cent to 48 per cent.  

Although the results seem positive, the researchers worry ‘newer products entering the market’ are becoming increasingly popular among young people in the US. 

‘Ongoing monitoring of young people’s e-cigarette use, and links to smoking, remains a public health priority,’ they added. 

What is an e-cigarette and how is it different to smoking tobacco?

An electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) is a device that allows users to inhale nicotine by heating a vapour from a solution that contain nicotine, propylene and flavourings.

As there is no burning involved, there is no smoke like a traditional cigarette.

But while they have been branded as carrying a lower risk than cigarettes, an increasing swell of studies is showing health dangers.

E-cigarettes do not produce tar or carbon monoxide, but the vapor does contain some harmful chemicals.

Nicotine is the highly addictive chemical which makes it difficult for smokers to quit.  

Nearly three million people in Britain use e-cigarettes, and more than nine million Americans.


1. Standard e-cigarette

Battery-powered device containing nicotine e-liquid.

It vaporizes flavored nicotine liquid.

2. Juul

Very similar to normal e-cigarettes but with sleeker design and a higher concentration of nicotine.

Thanks to its ‘nicotine salts’, manufacturers claim one pod delivers the amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes.

It is composed of an e-cigarette (battery and temperature control), and a pod of e-liquid which is inserted at the end.

The liquid contains nicotine, chemicals and flavorings.

Like other vaping devices, it vaporizes the e-liquid.

3. IQOS by Philip Morris

Pen-shaped, charged like an iPod.

Vaporizes tobacco.

It is known as a ‘heat not burn’ smokeless device, heating tobacco but not burning it (at 350C compared to 600C as normal cigarettes do).

The company claims this method lowers users’ exposure to carcinogen from burning tobacco.

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