New Study Debunks Myth that E-Cigs Are a Gateway to Smoking

In October, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that using e-cigarettes could be dangerous for teenagers, claiming that the tobacco free devices could act as a gateway to entice kids to start smoking. Now a new study reports that this is just not true as researchers discovered that e-cigs do not seem to entice teens to try smoking tobacco cigarettes at all.

According to the CDC, the number of middle school and high school students that reported trying e-cigarettes had more than doubled, increasing from 3.3 percent to 6.8 percent. Only 2.1 percent of students claimed to be using e-cigarettes currently and among those, more than three-quarters also reported using tobacco cigarettes.

Because some teens reported using both e-cigs and tobacco, many health analysts jumped to the conclusion that e-cigarettes could be creating a gateway to smoking. Some speculated that e-cigs could potentially lead more teenagers to nicotine addiction and a handful of officials used the argument to push the FDA for new e-cig regulations.

Now a new study is negating those speculations. The study began with a survey of 1,300 college students with an average participant age of 19 years old. Participants were questioned about the first tobacco products they had tried and about their current tobacco habits. Only 43 participants said that e-cigarettes were the first nicotine products they had tried. Of those 43 students, only one individual went on to smoke tobacco cigarettes. The majority of those 43 students were not currently using any form of tobacco or nicotine.

Researcher Theodore Wagener, an assistant professor of general and community pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, was heavily involved in the research and later presented the results to the American Association for Cancer Research. In regards to whether e-cigarettes could be a gateway to tobacco use, he said, “It didn’t seem as though it really proved to be a gateway to anything.”

Despite federal rules that block the sale of tobacco cigarettes to individuals under age 18, there is no current law regarding the legal age to purchase e-cigarettes. Currently, around half of states prohibit sales of electronic cigarettes to underage people. However, some have argued that the availability of e-cigarettes online is the most dangerous aspect of these products.

Scott Leischow from the cancer prevention and control program at the world renowned Mayo Clinic commented, “The use of these products is increasing dramatically… It seems like we’re in the midst of a national experiment.” Wagener agreed with those sentiments, but also insisted that most teenagers and adults that turn to e-cigarettes are doing so in an effort to stop smoking or reduce the risks associated with using tobacco. He went on to encourage parents to talk to kids about e-cigarettes and the risks involved.

“I think parents should be vigilant and talk to their kids and let them know that this is not a 100-percent safe product. It’s not water vapor. It’s nicotine. It has carcinogens in it… It might be less than regular cigarettes, but at the end of the day, they’re still putting something that has carcinogens and toxins into their system.”

While e-cigarettes are obviously not 100 percent risk-free, this study is very reassuring in showing that teenagers using e-cigarettes do not typically move on to become tobacco users.

How do you feel about teens using e-cigarettes? How should parents be handling this situation?

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Author Focus: Katie Bercham
Katie actually had a negative first experience of electronic cigarettes, picking up a cheap and horrible model from my local mall. Thanks to a chance meeting with co-editor David, she hasn’t had a tobacco cigarette in over 2 years. She brings a strong female voice to the e-cig community... Read Full Profile >