Renowned professor indicates why the “gateway theory” will likely never be abandoned despite the growing evidence for vaping
These days we know a lot more about vaping than we did even five years ago. The results of this research have been mixed at times, but ultimately overwhelmingly positive for the harm reduction and smoking cessation benefits of vaping. Despite this, vaping remains a hugely divisive topic today. Heated debates over the efficacy of vaping have a considerable impact on the public’s understanding and perception of the industry. As a result, polls have shown that as little as 13% of adults even understand that vaping is much safer compared with smoking.
It should be no surprise then, that anti-vaping rhetoric commonly devolves into blatant misleading and exaggeration that seeks to equate smoking and vaping. One of the most popular methods for doing this is claiming that legitimizing vaping for its benefits will ultimately lead to more smokers. This “gateway theory” often revolves around the risk posed to children specifically, but a recent commentary published in the Addiction Journal indicates regardless of the unclear evidence, anti-vapers will likely always use the gateway theory due to the intense emotional argument it offers.
Far Too Complex
This commentary from Dr. Jean-Francois Etter of The University of Geneva was made in response to another paper he wrote called Gateway Effects and Electronic Cigarettes. Dr. Etter took the argument made in that paper and gave further context to why the gateway theory will always be elusive thanks to its incredibly complex nature. Specifically how the links between vaping and smoking can never be explained away with simple causal models. Instead, to even approach accuracy we would need multi-dimensional models which can account for randomized and non-linear sequences that may change over time.
The bottom line, according to Dr. Etter, is that calling any causal model a “gateway theory” significantly underestimates how many external factors are at play. While he stops short of endorsing vaping, per se, he does make a strong case that the oft-used gateway theory against vaping will always be missing key factors and therefore misleading. He even goes as far as to call out anti-vapers for sticking to this argument for no other reason than the political value. “Given the political value of the gateway theory, opponents of e‐cigarettes will not stop using this theory, even if the science behind it may always remain elusive.”
Examining The Evidence
Regardless of the fact anti-vapers will always use the argument, it’s getting harder and harder to not sound like a fool when you do thanks to all the evidence. A study published earlier this year by the UK Centre for Substance Use Research interviewed vapers between the ages of 16 and 25 about their personal beliefs and habits, as well as how they perceived their peer’s habits. They concluded not only is the gateway theory entirely false, but it could even be actively making things worse. According to lead researcher, Dr. Neil McKeganey “There was minimal indication amongst young people interviewed that e-cigarettes were resulting in an increased likelihood of young people smoking. In fact, the majority we interviewed, including those who were vaping, perceived smoking in very negative terms and saw vaping as entirely different to smoking.”
Going further than pure perception, the evidence we have on how many non-smoking teens and adults are starting to vape also checks out. For example, a study of over 60,000 teens by Action on Smoking and Health concluded that only between 0.1% and 0.5% of non-smoking teens are ever picking up vaporizers, let alone cigarettes. A study conducted by renowned tobacco control expert, Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos found similar results when his survey of over 4000 adult vapers indicated only 0.2% of them had previously been non-smokers.
We must keep an open mind and help others do the same. While it’s somewhat understandable why so many seem to think vaping and smoking are similar, that doesn’t mean we should give up on educating them. The majority of the evidence we have strongly indicates that not only is vaping 95% safer than smoking, but it’s also one of the best smoking cessation tools we have at our disposal. Given the fact that smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death and disease around the globe, we should be doing everything we can to legitimize vaping, not undermine it with politically driven rhetoric.
Do you think the gateway theory is overblown? How can we educate more people about the benefits of vaping? What’s the best way to improve the public perception of vaping? Let us know what you think in the comments, and don’t forget to check back here or join our Facebook and Twitter communities for more news and articles.