Research Finds Vaping Is Not A “Gateway” To Teen Smoking


Research Affirms Long-Held Belief By Tobacco Control Experts

The discourse surrounding the vaping industry appears to be moving in a positive direction following weeks of misinformed fearmongering by news outlets. A wave of peer-reviewed research has emerged, highlighting the efficacy of vaping as a smoking cessation device, alongside public health officials and lawmakers taking new stances in defiance of the current hysteria surrounding vaping.

A study published in the medical journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research finds that any relationship between teenage vaping and smoking can be attributed to common risk factors for tobacco use, such as peer usage and alcohol experimentation. Even when accounting and controlling for preexisting differences among teens, such as demographic and behavioral information, researchers simply found that there are common traditional risk factors for initiating tobacco use in teens, and vaping has not been shown to exacerbate that.

Many in the public health community stand steadfast behind the antiquated concept that vaping may act as a gateway to smoking, attracting new generations of smokers. Arielle Selya, the lead author of the study and assistant scientist at Sanford Health, notes that her research directly undermines this common hypothesis.

While the science is not yet conclusive on the relative safety of vaping, there have been plenty of studies noting the reduced harm vaping poses in comparison to smoking. Selya has iterated that it’s important to hold off on creating policies regarding vaping until there is a better understanding of its effects, rather than hasty regulation enacted out of misinformation.

Debunking The Gateway

A study published in the medical journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research suggests any connection between teenage smoking and vaping can be attributed to shared risk factors for tobacco use, such as peer tobacco consumption and adolescent alcohol use. This contradicts a common narrative by some public health experts that e-cigarettes serve as a gateway for additional nicotine use.

Dr. Arielle S. Selya, the lead author of the study as well as an assistant scientist at Sanford Health, says that her research disputes this common claim. Bearing this in mind, Selya notes that it’s “really important to hold off on making policies on e-cigarettes until we have a more solid understanding of its effects” and at a minimum, that existing policies should be continuously reevaluated as more research comes out.”

Dr.Sharon Levy, director of the Adolescent Substance Abuse and Addiction Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, commends the study’s use of sophisticated analytical strategies. However, she notes the study did not address “some of what we know about addiction and epidemics … namely that once people become addicted to a substance, they tend to use it in whatever form they can get it.”

Some critics of the study note that young people may become addicted to nicotine through vaping, and may later transition to cigarettes for reasons such as concerns of illnesses using e-cigarettes due to unfounded fearmongering in the press, or getting priced out of the vaping market through excessive taxation and regulation. Selya has noted the limitations of her research but has also stated that her work shows standard statistical models used in most studies tend to be biased when looking at the impact of vaping.

Facts About Vaping

We are currently living in the midst of a worldwide smoking epidemic, affecting over a billion people and responsible for millions of deaths globally each year. The CDC estimates there are 38 million smokers in just the US alone, with 16 million currently suffering from some kind of smoking-related condition.

Thankfully for those suffering, there is an extensive collection of peer-reviewed evidence highlighting how effective vaping is helping smokers quit. Research conducted by University College London found that vaping helped up to 70,000 British smokers quit in 2017 alone.

In fact, the currently available research indicates vaping may be the single greatest smoking cessation tool at our disposal. A study from the University of Louisville found vaping to be the single most effective smoking cessation option available, even more than prescription medications such as Chantix.

Alongside research affirming the efficacy of vaporizers as smoking cessation devices, there is also extensive evidence that notes the reduced harm vaping poses compared to smoking. A study published in the Journal of Aerosol Sciences found those who vape have a 57,000 times lower risk of developing cancer than those who smoke.


Dr. Selya warns against the knee-jerk reaction to regulating vaping the same as smoking, and in some instances, even more than smoking. While describing those efforts as well-intentioned but ultimately flawed, she notes that the overregulation of e-cigarettes may simply make teens already predisposed to experimentation more likely to take up traditional cigarettes instead.

Vaping should be regulated independently of smoking, based on fact-based research and not merely fearmongering by anti-vaping activists. At a minimum, as Dr. Selya points out, regulations should be reevaluated as additional research comes out and continues to challenge preexisting conventions.

The vaping industry and related organizations need to get better at showcasing studies such as these, which help portray vaping in a more positive light — especially given the constant stream of negative press cycles over the last couple of months. Members of the vaping community should also share stories to help secure the future of the habit that has brought so much to their lives and allowed them to finally be free of smoking.

Do you believe the current climate surrounding the vaping industry is improving? Are you concerned about the impact of overregulating vaping? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below, be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter to receive all the latest vaping news!

(Image Credit – Pixabay –

Jimmy, lover, blogger, vaper and ex-smoker. I’ve been blogging about and supporting Vaping since 2009. They changed my life and I think history will show them as one of the most significant public health invention of the 21st century.

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