Vaping not a gateway to smoking cigarettes — but it may replace the habit

LONDON — Vaping may not be a stepping stone to smoking cigarettes after all. Instead, a new study finds it might be replacing them.

Researchers from Queen Mary University in London found no evidence suggesting that alternative nicotine products lead individuals to take up smoking. The study authors believe that these products, including e-cigarettes, could actually be contributing to the decline of traditional tobacco cigarette smoking.

The shift is attributed to vaping products effectively competing with combustible tobacco products. However, the researchers note that the data is preliminary. They hope their findings will help address concerns regarding the widespread availability of vaping products in countries like the United Kingdom.

Although Australia has banned vaping, researchers at Queen Mary University (QMU) observed that Australians are taking longer to quit smoking cigarettes in comparison to Brits. Moreover, younger individuals and those with a lower socioeconomic status in Australia are transitioning away from tobacco at a slower pace than their counterparts in the United States and the U.K.

In Japan, the introduction of heated tobacco — another smoking alternative — led to a significant drop in cigarette sales, according to the team.

“The results of this study alleviate the concern that access to e-cigarettes and other low-risk nicotine products promote smoking. There is no sign of that, and there are some signs that they in fact compete against cigarettes, but more data over a longer time period are needed to determine the size of this effect,” says Professor Peter Hajek, Director of the Health and Lifestyle Research Unit at the Wolfson Institute of Population Health at QMU, in a media release.

Vaping nicotine teenager
Photo by Nery Zarate (Unsplash)

The team at QMU analyzed the sales trends of cigarettes and vaping products in both the U.K. and the U.S., where vaping is legal. They contrasted this data with figures from Australia, where vaping is prohibited. Additionally, they examined trends in Sweden, where oral nicotine pouches are prevalent, and in Japan and South Korea, where heated tobacco products are popular.

“This comprehensive analysis provides reassurance that countries which have adopted a more progressive stance towards e-cigarettes have not seen a detrimental impact on smoking rates. If anything, the results suggest that – more likely than not – e-cigarettes have displaced harmful cigarettes in those countries so far. However, as this is fast moving field, with new technologies entering the market every year, it remains important to continue monitoring national data,” explains Professor Lion Shahab, Co-director of the UCL Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group.

The team notes people often use vapes as well as cigarettes, meaning the data overlaps. As a result, they need more time and sales data to firm up whether people are ditching cigarettes to exclusively vape.

“The initial findings from this study are valuable but no firm conclusions can be drawn yet. More research is needed in this area to understand further the impact that alternative nicotine delivery products, such as e-cigarettes, might have on smoking rates,” concludes Professor Brian Ferguson, Director of the Public Health Research Program (NIHR).

The study is published in the journal Public Health Research and received funding from the National Institute for Health and Care Research.

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South West News Service writer Pol Allingham contributed to this report.

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