Vaping As A Gateway To Smoking

The use of e-cigarettes has seen a massive rise in popularity over the last few years, with thousands of individuals crediting the devices as the sole success for kicking their tobacco habit.

Why then, with such a positive impact on the nation’s smoking cessation rates, are e-cigarettes vilified as a gateway which leads to the use of traditional tobacco cigarettes?

A number of studies appear to condemn the practise of vaping and perpetuate the myth that it will inevitably evolve into a full-blown smoking habit – despite the fact that the findings suggest the association between the two nicotine delivery methods is very minor.

A study published in the August 2015 edition of JAMA conducted by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, Dartmouth University and the University of Oregon examined 2,530 fourteen-year-old school students over the period of one year.

None of the participants of the study were smokers of any combustible tobacco products, including cigars, hookah and cigarettes, but 222 had previously used e-cigarettes. After a period of twelve months, 25% of the participants who had used e-cigarettes had smoked at least ‘one puff’ of a traditional tobacco product, compared to only 9% of the non-e-cigarette users.

Although the findings suggest that young people who have tried e-cigarettes are more likely to go on to smoke traditional cigarettes, it does not conclusively mean that vaping will inevitably and directly lead to a tobacco habit. Rather, the apparent ‘gateway’ effect observed in this and other similar studies merely indicates a slightly increased chance of future smoking for a small percentage of e-cigarette users.

A major study carried out by Public Health England (PHE) conclusively disproves the gateway theory. Their study of 60,000 teens revealed that just 3% of 11-16-year olds have used an e-cigarette at all, and almost all of these individuals had already smoked tobacco products prior to their e-cigarette use. Only 0.1% of participants who were regular e-cigarette users had never smoked tobacco before.

Another study carried out by Georgetown University Medical Centre and published in the Tobacco Control Journal has shown that as the number of young people who use e-cigarettes grows, the number of young people who smoke cigarettes has decreased.

The study examined data of young people aged between 16 and 17 from 2013 to 2017 and found that when vaping became popular in 2014, the rate of young tobacco smokers dropped at by least twice as much as previous years.

“This finding is important because it indicates the [U.S.] experienced a major reduction in youth and young adult cigarette smoking when vaping became more popular,” study author David Levy said in a release.

Vaping has had a positive effect on reducing cigarette smoking. On a population level, any effect that vaping may have had act as a gateway to cigarette smoking during the time frame examined appears to be small relative to the effects of vaping leading to less smoking,” Levy says.

The findings of studies which condemn the relationship between e-cigarette use and subsequent smoking continually overlook the notion that teens who are likely to smoke are also likely to vape, and since vaping is proven to be 95% less harmful than smoking, surely it’s better that those teens take up vaping rather than smoking? Teens who have no desire or predisposition to smoke would also not consider taking up vaping.


This type of unfounded fearmongering only serves to detract from the overall effectiveness of e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation aid and, if not properly debunked, could limit their availability and dissuade current smokers from making the switch to a substantially healthier option.