Published on March 16th, 2017 | by Jimmy Hafrey
The UK Centre for Substance Abuse Research has presented a new study that shows that e-cigarettes are being viewed by young people as a roadblock, not a gateway, to smoking.
The study, which was presented at the Global Forum on Nicotine and was published on Science Daily nearly a year ago, consists of qualitative interviews with young people from the ages of 16 to 25 who reside in both England and Scotland. It focused on the participants’ views of not only smoking and e-cigarettes, but whether or not e-cigarettes were as dangerous as smoking.
The results will not surprise any e-cigarette advocate; the answers were overwhelming centered on the fact that most young people believe vaping is not as harmful as smoking.
“There was very little indication amongst the young people interviewed that e-cigarettes were resulting in an increased likelihood of young people smoking,” Dr Neil McKeganey said, who led the research effort, when speaking to reporters. “In fact the majority we interviewed, including those who were vaping, perceived smoking in very negative terms and saw vaping as being entirely different to smoking.”
The majority of participants represented the wide diversity of the e-cigarette and smoking debate. It included current and former traditional smokers, e-cigarette users, and non-smokers. Interviews were conducted with the participants and included questions on whether e-cigarettes were dangerous, if e-cigarettes were a gateway to smoking, and more.
Interview answers were common on the question of whether or not e-cigarettes may replace smoking in the years to come. One 18-year-old participant stated that: “I think vaping is having an effect on smoking cigarettes in that it’s taking away from it. People are moving off cigarettes and moving onto vaping.”
The participants also overwhelmingly agreed that tobacco was dangerous and that e-cigarettes provided a healthier and less dangerous alternative. The idea that e-cigarettes will eventually replace traditional cigarettes was also a shared sentiment, as was the idea that e-cigarettes can be considered a valid smoking cessation method.
One participant stated that: “I think it’s usually people who are trying to stop smoking who vape. I mean there is the odd person who does it because it’s cool and that might influence them to want to try smoking, but I think on the whole it’s the other way round. It’s people vaping who have given up smoking.”
Despite all the education that the participants had in the study, however, it was made clear to researchers that young people are still unsure as to how much safer e-cigarettes are in relation to smoking traditional cigarettes. This is perhaps due to the fact that the media campaign against vaping has been strong and constant, leading many of the participants of this study to say that e-cigarettes could be “just as bad” as traditional cigarettes; this has also led many of the participants to be reluctant to use e-cigarette devices.
“While it is encouraging to see that young people appear to be quite clear about the role of e-cigarettes in society (devices used by smokers who are trying to — or already have — quit tobacco),” said McKeganey, when addressing the concerns of young people and the perception of e-cigarettes. He went on to say that: “It’s more concerning, particularly for the young people who currently smoke, that inaccurate perceptions of e-cigarettes could result in the persistent use of combustible tobacco irrespective of the fact that Public Health England has concluded vaping is 95% less harmful than conventional cigarettes.”
Many of the young people who expressed concern or reluctance to use e-cigarettes were particularly worried about the effects of long-term use. One participant explained that:
Where concerns were expressed around e-cigarettes, they were mostly about the uncertainty of long term use: “It took over 40 years for them to find out that smoking was really bad for you so I don’t know whether they will come out with something in the long term that will say ‘it’s bad for you’. I don’t think it’s going to be any worse than smoking, but for people who don’t smoke and who are vaping, I’d say there was a question mark over whether or not it’s good or bad in the long term.”
While young people have expressed concern about e-cigarettes, which has led to the perplexing move for smokers to continue on smoking instead of quitting, McKeganey did find some good news. He said that: “But what was equally clear from our research is that the much debated ‘Gateway’ theory is not materializing. There was nothing to suggest that youngsters see vaping as a stepping stone to smoking — quite the opposite.”
This study is nearly a year old, but it has yet to be disproved by any other studies that have tackled this issue. In fact, the U.S. Surgeon General’s office put out a report that, if read correctly and with the understanding that there is a massive amount of misinformation provided by the researchers, points to the same conclusion: young people are less interested in smoking than ever, and those that are smoking are making the switch to e-cigarettes.
So what does this mean for young people? It means that although some are still confused about the impact that e-cigarettes may have on their health, they are choosing to make their decision based on sound studies and evidence. It also points to a much larger point: young people are less inclined to put their health at risk just to smoke traditional cigarettes. That is something every health professional can be proud of.