How e-cigarettes could be a gateway to real cigarettes for Britain’s young

Vaping has largely been marketed as a healthier alternative to smoking, but new research suggests it comes with its own set of risks.

Young people in Britain who use e-cigarettes (vape) are nearly four times more likely to start smoking cigarettes than their non-vaping peers, our latest study has found.

When e-cigarettes first entered the market a decade ago, they were considered to be as dangerous as cigarettes. But views have changed since then, and e-cigarettes are now widely believed to be a far safer option than smoking.

In 2015, Public Health England published a detailed review of the evidence around the safety of e-cigarettes and said, at best guess, they were 95 per cent less toxic than conventional cigarettes.

But concerns remain because e-cigarettes usually contain the addictive ingredient of cigarettes: nicotine. While recognising the harm-reduction impact of e-cigarettes, it is important to ask what role, if any, e-cigarettes play in encouraging non-smoking adolescents to try their first cigarette.

For a number of years, my colleagues and I have been tracking data from several thousand schoolchildren in England to assess the impact of various anti-smoking interventions. We set about trying to identify any associations between e-cigarette use and starting to smoke within a year.

We started by looking at those children, aged 14 and 15, who had not smoked. We asked them to fill out a questionnaire at the start of the survey, and then a year later. Of those who had tried an e-cigarette, just under 34 per cent reported having a cigarette within a year compared with just under 9 per cent who had not. In other words, there was an almost fourfold increased chance of starting to smoke among those young people who had used an e-cigarette. This is worrying because it is known that once someone starts to smoke, the chances that they will continue to smoke are high.

Last year, researchers in the US published their findings on smoking among a group of teenagers (average age 17) in southern California. As with our study in England, they were surveyed at the start of the study and again 16 months later. The US researchers found that e-cigarette users had six times risk of starting to smoke compared with their peers, who had not used an e-cigarette.



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