A new scientific paper recently published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine shows electronic cigarettes are not a gateway to smoking for youth.
Entitled ‘Which nicotine products are gateways to regular use? First-tried tobacco and current use in college students’, the new study reports the result of an online survey of 1,304 undergraduate students at a university in Oklahoma. They were asked to report the first nicotine-containing product they used (cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, electronic cigarettes, hookah, or NRT) and all the current nicotine-containing products they currently use.
Researchers found that out of the 1,304 surveyed students, 59 had initiated nicotine use with electronic cigarettes, and of these only 3 reported having started with e-cigarettes and currently being a smoker. Only one of the 59 students was still using electronic cigarettes, and only occasionally. In comparison, 18.6% of those who first started using smokeless tobacco moved on to smoking and reported being current smokers.
“ETPs were the first product tried by some students (n=59), 78% of whom first tried e-cigarettes. Interestingly, only one of these students was still using an ETP at the time of the study, and this was reported as occasional use of e-cigarettes. This may suggest that the uptake potential of current ETPs is limited among youth. This finding is supported by the fact that all dissolvable tobacco products have been taken off of the market by tobacco companies owing to poor uptake of these products. Moreover, given the timing of data collection, it is likely that students who first tried e-cigarettes tried a first-generation device, which anecdotally is considered to be much less effective in delivering nicotine than newer models. In addition, only one student who initiated with an ETP (1.7%) was a daily user of any tobacco product (i.e., conventional cigarettes), compared to the 10% and 21% of current daily tobacco users who first tried conventional cigarettes and SLT, respectively.
The study authors concluded that “though this finding should be interpreted with caution, it potentially indicates that current ETPs are not necessarily strong gateways to regular tobacco use.”
We should however note that, as the researchers mention, the students who first tried e-cigarettes probably used first generation devices which are considered much less effective in delivering nicotine. Also, the 1,300 subject sample consisted of college students, and at the time they were in high-school electronic cigarettes were not nearly as popular as they are today. Doctor Michael Siegel, of the Boston University School of Public Health, believes that in order to get a more accurate answer to the gateway question, we need a similar study conducted on younger youth.
However, the gateway theory has been debunked by other studies as well, so there is definitely some truth to these findings. Yet, e-cigarette opponents, including the CDC continue to call them a gateway to smoking without producing any kind of relevant evidence.