According to a study conducted by Abigail Friedman, a researcher at Yale University, US states that have banned the use of electronic cigarettes by youths under 18-years-old have experienced an increase in traditional cigarette smoking among these youths.
So much for the e-cigarette gateway theory that vaping opponents have been using as one of their main arguments for years now. It turns out electronic cigarettes don’t push teens to smoking, but actually might keep them from turning to tobacco cigarettes. At least that’s the conclusion of a Yale study published on October 19, in the Journal of Health Economics.
“Conventional cigarette use has been falling somewhat steadily among this age group since the start of the 21st century. This paper shows that bans on e-cigarette sales to minors appear to have slowed this decline by about 70 percent in the states that implemented them,” said Abigail Friedman, assistant professor of public health. “In other words, as a result of these bans, more teenagers are using conventional cigarettes than otherwise would have done so.”
Using data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, Friedman found that state bans on e-cigarettes to minors yielded a 0.9 percentage point increase in rates of tobacco cigarette use use by 12 to 17 year olds, compared to states that have not adopted these bans. “Assuming that e-cigarettes are indeed less risky to one’s health than traditional cigarettes, as suggested by existing evidence on the subject, this result calls such bans into question,” the Yale researcher concluded.
The study used data from the 2009-2013 period, during which 24 states introduced bans on the sales of electronic cigarettes to under 18-year-olds. An additional 16 states have adopted these bans since January 2014, taking the total to 40 states. Considering the findings of her research, Friedman recommends banning e-cigs for those under age 16, “as initiation of regular smoking first spikes at (that) age.” Brad Rodu, a professor of medicine at the University of Louisville and a smokeless-tobacco advocate, finds this proposal “sensible and defensible”.
While some scientists, like Dr. Gilbert Ross, medical and executive director of the pro-business American Council on Science and Health, have expressed concerns regarding the higher rates of tobacco smoking among youths in states where e-cig bans are in place, others preferred to simply point out flaws in Friedman’s study.
“This study does not account for unmeasured factors, such as racial and ethnic population mix in states, even though we know race and ethnicity have dramatic effects of cigarette smoking,” Dr. John Spangler, a family and community medicine professor at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, said. “Although these are interesting findings, they raise questions that can only be addressed by a different study design, such as a cohort study.”