If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a thousand times. Ecig haters often like to argue that vaping is bad because it will lead teens to become lifelong smokers. Now a new survey is finally setting the record straight once and for all, proving that ecigs are not a gateway to tobacco use among young people. In a YouGov survey of 11-18 year olds, researchers discovered that while many teens try vaping, there are actually very few who use ecigs routinely. Those who do make a habit of vaping were almost all using cigarettes first.
At the nonprofit charity, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), policy director Hazel Cheeseman was pleased with the survey’s results. “These results should reassure the public that electronic cigarettes are not linked with any rise in young people smoking,” she said. “Although many young people are trying electronic cigarettes and many more young people are aware of them, this has not led to widespread, regular use or an increase in smoking.”
The survey revealed that teen vaping rates have increased over the past few years. In 2013, only four percent of young people had tried an ecig, but in the 2015 survey, 10 percent admitted to vaping at least once. However, experimenting with an ecig doesn’t mean that these kids are actually hardcore vapers. Survey responses showed that only 2.4 percent of teens use ecigs on a regular basis (or at least once a month) and almost all of those teens were already smoking tobacco cigs before they ever picked up an ecig.
Researchers also questioned the survey participants about their views on how ecigs impact health. Around 21 percent of teens said they thought using ecigs was just as dangerous as smoking regular cigarettes. However, public health advocates are hoping to educate teens more on the differences between smoking and vaping.
Lawmakers are also looking for ways to deter teens from using ecigs. In October, the UK will roll out a new law that bans the sale of ecigs to minors. Professor Kevin Fenton, national director of health and well-being at Public Health England, said the age restrictions will hopefully help teens understand that vaping isn’t just a recreational activity. “It will reinforce the message that (ecigs) are intended for adult smokers who want to cut down or stop smoking,” Fenton said.
Professor Linda Bauld is an expert on smoking behaviors. She said it’s not surprising to see that ecigs aren’t leading teens to use tobacco products. “The survey confirms previous studies showing that children who take up e-cigarettes are already smokers.” Bauld’s main concern is that teens learn that vaping is actually not as dangerous as smoking.
“This confusion may have contributed to a rising perception in young people – a view which almost doubled between 2013 and 2014 – that e-cigarettes can cause the same level of harm to the user as tobacco,” Bauld said. “This is concerning as it may contribute to some young people continuing to use a deadly product – the cigarette – rather than try less-harmful alternatives.”
Of course, no one wants to encourage children to use electronic cigarettes. Any nicotine products should be avoided by teens. However, if our young people refuse to abstain, it seems that vaping is a better choice than smoking. It’s the lesser of two evils, so to speak.
How do you feel about teen vaping? Do you think parents should warn teenagers to avoid ecigs completely or should they educate their kids about the differences between tobacco cigarettes and electronic cigarettes?