Cancer Research Debunks That E-Cigs Are A Gateway to Smoking

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

The term Fake News gets thrown around a lot lately, normally when someone has been shown to be wrong about something and they are trying to cover themselves. But sometimes the news will run with a fact and twist it until the original point is unrecognisable.

Such is the case with Cancer Research's survey, which off the back of the Daily Mail said "Children who tried e-cigarettes are 12 times more likely to start smoking tobacco". This was so against what the survey actually said 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 have to understand it.

The purpose of the study was to look into if there was a link between starting e-cigarettes and smoking. The study questioned 1,152 11-18 year olds. They asked if the 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 don't lead children to smoking.

Never the less this is a vital subject and so Cancer Research funded King’s College London to look into it more. They were trying to figure out if using an e-cig led to smoking (as people who believe that e-cigarettes are a gateway drug think) or if children were trying smoking and then moving to e-cigarettes.

The good news though was that the amount of children smoking so low that it made it hard to find a link. While obviously this is fantastic news, it did make finding the truth difficult. There was simply 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.

What the study found was that:

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

It all seems fairly 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 to cigarettes.

And at first this seems like big news, after all 12 times is a big number. But there are a couple of things to remember, the main one is that this was 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 are 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 really 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 I 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. For almost a year now there have been restrictions on the sale of e-cigarettes to over 18's and no advertising for e-cigarettes. And like other e-cig companies SMOKO will always try to only sell to smokers and ex-smokers.

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

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