The use of e-cigarettes may be prompting young teenagers to move on to conventional cigarettes, according to a new study.
The research, published by the British Medical Journal, found that children aged 13 and 14 who had tried e-cigarettes or vaping were four times more likely to have started smoking conventional cigarettes a year later compared to teenagers who had not tried e-cigarettes.
The study surveyed 2,386 young teenagers across 20 schools in England in 2014, and then a year later in 2015. Researchers behind the study said it was a preliminary and observational study, and no firm conclusions could be drawn about any "gateway" of vaping leading to cigarette use.
The results showed that among 13- and 14-year-olds who had tried e-cigarettes, 34 per cent had gone on to try real cigarettes a year later, where just 9 per cent of students who had not used e-cigarettes said they had started smoking a year later.
The study also found an uptake in smoking over the course of the 12- month period was more likely among students who had friends or two or three family members who smoked cigarettes. Levels of carbon monoxide in students’ breath were also taken, which would indicate if a student smoked.
The BMJ researchers said the initial trend between teenagers who tried “vaping” moving on to conventional cigarettes may be due to a normalising factor, or the introduction of an addiction to nicotine. They also said e-cigarette use among young teenagers may simply be an indicator of those who would have started smoking cigarettes anyway.
The study is the first of its kind to look at the connection between vaping and smoking among young teenagers in the United Kingdom, previous studies have been carried out in the United States. The BMJ study was published in the Tobacco Control journal.
Overall young teenagers taking up smoking continues to consistently decline, but the use of e-cigarette has increased. The study stated: “A significant minority of adolescents try e-cigarettes first and later initiate cigarette use”. The rate of teenagers who have tried e-cigarettes at least once is between 13 and 22 per cent.
The researchers concluded further work exploring the area would be needed to accurately confirm any gateway effect of e-cigarette use pushing teenagers towards trying traditional cigarettes.
“Given the lack of clarity regarding the mechanism linking e-cigarette and cigarette use, we need to be cautious in making policy recommendations based on our findings” the researchers stated.