E-cigarettes are not a gateway into smoking

The ‘gateway theory’ has been used as an argument against e-cigarettes for years, although evidence has in fact proved this to be untrue. University College London researchers have analysed 11 years’ worth of data and found that e-cigarettes are not a gateway into smoking for young people.

No significant evidence of a gateway effect
University College London have used the Smoking Toolkit Study, which has surveyed around 300 households per month since 2006, to look into the use of traditional tobacco products and e-cigarettes in people aged 16 – 24 in England.

The aim was to assess how changes in the prevalence of vaping among young adults may be associated with changes in the uptake of smoking in England between 2007 and 2018. Participants were asked if they had ever smoked tobacco products or used an e-cigarette, and how regularly they had done so.

The research, published in the medical journal Addiction, found that there is no significant relationship between e-cigarette use and an uptake in smoking, signifying that young vapers are not likely to take up smoking.

The results showed that 30.5% of 16 – 24 year-olds were regular smokers, while just 2.9% were regular vapers.

Lead author Dr Emma Beard, of University College London’s Department of Behavioural Science and Health, stated:

“These findings suggest the large gateway effects reported in previous studies can be ruled out, particularly among those aged 18 to 24.”

Vaping among young people remains low
The gateway myth has been addressed many times over the past few years, as some believe that young people will become addicted to nicotine through e-cigarettes, and this will lead them to take up smoking.

However, regular e-cigarette use among both young people and never-smokers has remained consistently low in the years since e-cigarettes became widely available.

Action on Smoking and Health’s annual fact sheet for 2021 found that just 3.3% of 11 – 17 year-old never-smokers have tried an e-cigarette once or twice, with only 0.3% using one at least once a week. They also found that only 4.9% of all vapers are never-smokers, which equates to just 0.7% of the UK population.

The majority of young people who use an e-cigarette identify as either an ex-smoker or a dual user, which are people who both smoke and vape, usually as a way to reduce the amount of cigarettes they smoke.

Vaping is in fact offering people a pathway out of smoking, giving them an effective alternative to assist in a stop smoking attempt, which you can read more about in our blog post ‘Debunking the ‘gateway theory’’.

Nicotine-containing e-liquids create a vapor which can be inhaled, similar to how you would smoke, that can help the user keep nicotine cravings at bay without inhaling the countless harmful chemicals that are found in tobacco smoke.

Public Health England has found e-cigarettes to be 95% less harmful than smoking, and have shown their support for people making the switch from smoking to vaping as part of a healthier lifestyle.