For the past few months, we’ve heard over and over about how e-cigarettes could be a gateway to cause people to start smoking. This argument was propelled even further with the CDC report that alleged that electronic cigarette use had doubled among middle and high school students in one year. Many health analysts have latched onto the gateway argument and repeatedly insisted that e-cigarettes were bound to lead to increased tobacco consumption over time. Some pointed out that because some people are using both e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes, it would inevitably lead to higher nicotine addiction and tobacco use in the future.
Stan Glantz took up this argument in a July article in Scientific American, saying, “We’ve found very high levels of dual use (traditional cigarettes along with e-cigarette use). Very few people have switched away from cigarettes or managed to use them as a bridge to eventually go off cigarettes.” While his argument was purely based on speculation instead of science, there is a brand new study that is allowing us to get a closer look at how “dual use” is actually impacting people. It turns out that using e-cigarettes IS a gateway, but not in the way most people think.
Authors of the new study were highly qualified: Jean-Francois Etter from the Institute of Social and Preventative Medicine at the University of Geneva in Switzerland worked along with Chris Bullen from the National Institute for Health Innovation, School of Population Health at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. During the study, the researchers examined 477 e-cigarette users that they recruited through smoking cessation websites. These smokers were followed for a year and then their use of e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes were analyzed.
At the end of the study, the researchers discovered that “dual” smokers who were using e-cigarettes daily along with their regular cigarettes were often successful in quitting altogether. In fact, after one year, 46 percent of “dual” smokers had stopped smoking completely. Of those that quit, only 6 percent had relapsed after a full year. Of the dual users that were still smoking at the end of the study, cigarette consumption had decreased across the board by an average of 5.3 cigarettes per day.
In a summary of the study, this was the overall conclusion: “Most e-cigarette users were former smokers, who used e-cigarettes much like nicotine medications, to assist quitting, but with a longer duration of use. During the course of one year, use of e-cigarettes was remarkably stable in this group, even in those who had recently started to vape. Among vapers, very few ex-smokers relapsed to smoking, even among recent quitters. Dual users of e-cigarettes and conventional cigarettes reduced their cigarette consumption after they started to vape, and about half had stopped smoking at 1-year follow-up.”
While this study involved smokers that were already invested in the prospect of smoking cessation, the results still show a clear contrast to many claims that e-cigarettes are a gateway to increased tobacco use. If anything, the study shows that e-cigarettes are a gateway to smoking cessation!
By analyzing the results of this study, we can quickly see that the remarks by Stan Glantz were not entirely accurate. Nearly half of dual users managed to give up smoking completely and that is hardly “very few people” as he stated.
The moral of the story is that dual use is not necessarily a bad thing. While not all people will quit smoking completely after they begin using e-cigarettes, there is at least a portion of smokers that will be able to achieve that goal. If nothing else, e-cigarettes appear to cause a decrease in the number of cigarettes consumed and we can all agree that this is a very positive outcome.
So from now on, when you hear e-cigarette critics say that your favorite vaping gear is nothing more than a gateway to tobacco use, you can show them this new study and politely remind them that yes, e-cigs can be a gateway… but they are mostly a gateway to giving up cigarettes altogether.