Cancer Research UK (CRUK) has responded to the media’s misinterpretation that e-cigarettes influence young people to try cigarette smoking, saying the study did not find a definitive association.
The media misinterpreted a recent CRUK-funded paper that investigated a potential ‘gateway effect’ between young people using e-cigarettes and taking up cigarette smoking.
Carl Alexander from Cancer Research UK said: “While this study shows young people who experiment with e-cigarettes are likely to try smoking and vice versa, the researchers didn’t look at whether the youngsters then became regular users or whether they might have tried smoking anyway.
“Research like this is important to help us understand the potential impact of e-cigarettes on young people.
“It’s illegal to sell e-cigarettes to under 18s in this country, and regular use among those who’ve never smoked tobacco is very low. Tobacco is the biggest preventable cause of death in the world.
“The evidence so far shows that e-cigarettes are much less harmful than smoking and people are successfully using them to give up tobacco.”
How was the research misinterpreted?
The research was carried out by King’s College London and funded by Cancer Research UK. The concern is that the information is being misinterpreted as demonstrating “strong evidence of a so-called ‘gateway effect’ from electronic cigarettes to smoking.
The study did find an association between e-cigarette use and smoking and vice versa.
However, finding this association does not mean one behaviour caused the other. The chances of trying an e-cigarette prompting an urge to try regular cigarettes is the same as trying smoking causing an urge to try an e-cigarette.
Furthermore, the study found that it was much more common for young people to have tried smoking than vaping, with only 21 trying an e-cigarette but not smoking, compared with 118 who had tried smoking but not e-cigarettes.
Is the evidence sufficient?
Rates of young people smoking in the UK are continuing to decline, while the regular use of e-cigarettes is rare and almost entirely confined to those who have smoked before.
The release concludes that the evidence does not therefore support the concern that e-cigarettes are a strong gateway into smoking.
In the UK sale of e-cigarettes to under-18s is prohibited, and advertising for the product on TV, radio, the internet and the press is prohibited. All of these measures are designed to protect young people in particular.
Source: Cancer Research UK