The electronic cigarette industry has experienced a surge in popularity in recent years. E-cigarettes and similar devices have become a favorite method among those wanting to quit smoking. It seems vaping is all the rage.
But with all the success, attention and press coverage comes greater scrutiny. Several studies are claiming that young people who take on vaping without first being smokers are more likely to take on traditional smoking than those who have not. Could e-cigs really be a gateway to smoking? We have to break down the studies and culture surrounding vaping to discover the answer.
Taking a closer look at the studies:
In 2015, Leventhal et al published a study in which several non-smoking teenagers were followed for one year. The study showed that amongst the participants that had tried an e-cigarette device such as the V2 Cig at the beginning of the study, 25% of them had taken at least one drag of a regular cigarette one year later. In comparison, 9% of those who had not tried vaping before had tried smoking. Other similar studies have shown comparable results.
In almost every case, the conclusions fail to differentiate having a single drag of a cigarette versus becoming a regular smoker, which are two vastly different things. Not showing difference between the two inflates the percentage of so-called “smokers” mentioned in those articles by a large margin. No matter how easy it is to point fingers and draw conclusions, one puff of a cigarette does not make someone into a serious, regular smoker.
The Gateway Theory Criticized:
Those opposed to vaping are fast at pointing fingers and drawing conclusions. They broadly claim that e-cigs are, without fail, a gateway to traditional tobacco smoking. And while studies claim that teenagers who have vaped once are six times more likely to take on smoking than those who have not vaped, drawing parallels between the two is an easy and not completely honest conclusion that draws from the flawed “gateway theory.”
But what is so wrong about this theory, one might ask? For a start, it is nothing but a hypothesis and has been criticized for several decades. The theory claims that the use of a gateway drug, or a drug that has no great danger, will often lead to the user progressing to harder and more serious drug abuse. While this seems like a logical conclusion, people have been arguing for decades that this is mere political propaganda used to scare people off of the likes of marijuana, and that there is no conclusive evidence of a link to developing hard drug habits.
Correlation vs. Causation:
The counterclaim to the gateway theory lies in the fact that correlation does not equal causation. What that means is that a link between two things doesn’t have to imply that one must lead to the other. To illustrate this with a concrete example, we can all agree that not everyone who plays with toy guns as a child is going to grow into a hitman later in life. Making such a broad assumption makes the theory a little less solid when it is applied to a scenario other than cigarettes and vaping.
That’s not to say that there isn’t a relation between hard drug use and marijuana use. There is. Drug users are known to use a wide variety of substances, including less dangerous substances such a cannabis or alcohol. But that fact alone is not enough to come to the conclusion that marijuana is the culprit that initially led to the use of harder drugs. And likewise, assuming that someone who tries an e-cigarette will end up a regular smoker is largely preposterous.
Despite all the bad press e-cigarettes have received in the wake of the new FDA regulations, vaping is not the enemy. There is a lot of fear around e-cigarettes, and this gateway rhetoric is being used as a way to justify the introduction of these new regulations.
Vaping remains a great quit-smoking aid, and those who make a habit of vaping without having first been a smoker are few and far between. Besides, the decline in smokers compared to the rise in vapers means we can safely say:
No. Vaping does not turn people into smokers.