Cancer Research Debunks Theory Of E-Cigs As A Gateway To Smoking

Cancer Research UK debunks the News coverage around their new study on the gateway effect of the e-cigarette.


The term “Fake News” has become very popular lately, normally used when someone has been shown to be wrong and they try cover themselves or backtrack. But sometimes the news will run with a “fact” and twist it until the original point is unrecognisable.


Such is the case with the Cancer Research survey about which the Daily Mail website's sensational headline read, "Children who tried e-cigarettes are 12 times more likely to start smoking tobacco". This misinterpreted survey so much that both Cancer Research UK and the NHS had to release a rebuttal!

The Study


To understand why Cancer Research got so annoyed with how the media portrayed the study, we first must look into it.


The purpose of the study was to investigate if there is a link between starting e-cigarettes and smoking. The study questioned 1,152 11-18 year olds. They asked if they ever smoked, ever used an e-cigarette and if they had used both. It follows on from another study like this back in 2017, which we talk about here, which found that e-cigs do not lead children to smoking.


Nevertheless, this is a vital subject and so Cancer Research commissioned King’s College London to look deeper into it. The study aimed to discover whether using an e-cig led to smoking (as some people believe) or if children were trying smoking and then moving to e-cigarettes.


The good news though was the number of children smoking is so low that it was difficult find a link. While obviously this is fantastic news, it did make finding the truth difficult. There was less data and so it was harder for the researchers to get a clear picture.


Even so they were able to get some data and found... that e-cigarettes didn’t act as a gateway to smoking.


Statistics wise the study found that:

  1. 80% of the children had never smoked.
  2. 89% of the children had never used an e-cigarette.
  3. Less than 3% (21 out of 923) of children surveyed had used an e-cig and then went on to cigarettes.
  4. The 20% of children who had ever smoked were 3.5 times more likely to try e-cigarettes as well.


It all seems clear cut then, fewer children are trying cigarettes and even less are trying e-cigarettes.


The Rebuttals


So how did the media get the wrong end of the stick?


If you look in the statistics above there is the point that 3% of the children first tried the e-cigarette and then went on to cigarettes. This conversion from e-cigarettes to cigarettes works out about 12x more than never using anything then smoking cigarettes.


And at first this seems like big news, after all 12 times is a big multiplier. But there are a couple of things to remember, the main one is that this was based on 21 children out of over 1000 surveyed, which the NHS said is considered at best "weak evidence".


The good news (for e-cigarettes) is that children don't seem to be drawn to e-cigs in the same way that they were drawn to cigarettes.


While it would be much better that children never tried cigarettes or e-cigarettes, this isn't anywhere near what the Daily Mail reported. In fact, the worst result that you can really get from this study is that children are still trying nicotine. It certainly doesn't prove that e-cigarettes lead to smoking; in fact, if e-cigs were a gateway more children would have tried e-cigarettes than cigarettes, which wasn't the case.


As Cancer Research UK said:

" This study found that it is equally likely that trying an e-cigarette “causes” trying smoking, as trying smoking “causes” trying an e-cigarette."


In simple terms, if a child wants to try nicotine they were going to try both.


Of course, this isn't perfect, that's why as an industry we are always trying to do better. Since the implementation of the EU TPD in May 2016, there has been restrictions on the sale of e-cigarettes to people under 18's and no advertising for e-cigarettes.  At SMOKO, we focus our time trying to help people who smoke cigarettes to switch to an alternative.


But like the study in 2017, this study definitely doesn't show that e-cigs are leading children to cigarettes.


So if you're a smoker over 18 who didn't make the switch because of the headlines, then fear not! Get one of our great e-cigarette starter kits today and see if you can make the switch!

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