Whether e-cigarettes are a "gateway" or a "roadblock" to cigarette smoking among teens has long been a subject of debate.
Just recently, researchers from California discovered that older teens who use e-cigarettes or vape pens are six times more likely to smoke conventional cigarettes in a span of two years, compared to their peers who have not smoked it before.
However, an expert from Boston says this previous study lacked sufficient evidence to prove that vaping indeed causes the switch to traditional smoking among youngsters.
"If they turned into regular vapers, they wouldn't have turned to smoking," argued Professor Michael Siegel of Boston University.
Now, the tides have turned. A new research in the United Kingdom revealed that e-cigarettes play a key role in reducing the chances of teen smoking.
In many cases, e-cigarettes act as a roadblock to tobacco, the report said.
Experts from the Center for Substance Use Research conducted detailed interviews with young people who were aged 16 to 25 years old across England and Scotland. The majority of the participants say e-cigarettes have reduced the chances of themselves and other people smoking traditional cigarettes.
Lead author Dr. Neil McKeganey says there were very little indication among the participants that e-cigarettes result to higher chances of young people smoking He says most of the participants, including those who used e-cigarettes, perceived cigarette smoking in negative terms. These participants also considered vaping as being entirely different to smoking.
One of the participants believed that vaping is taking away from cigarette smoking, adding that people are moving off traditional cigarettes and switching to vaping. Another participant believed that if vaping became more common, cigarette smoking would become uncommon because of the aspect of quitting, adding that vaping will "replace smoking."
An overwhelmingly high number of participants — who represented non-smokers, current and former smokers, and e-cigarette users — view tobacco as "extremely harmful" and say that e-cigarettes offer smokers a substitute.
Many of the participants also said vaping will cause a decline in smoking. When asked whether the opposite effect could happen, one 19-year-old said it is typically people who are trying to quit smoking who use e-cigarettes.
"I mean there is the odd person who does it because it's cool and that might influence them to want to try smoking," the participant said. "[B]ut I think on the whole it's the other way round."
However, although the majority of participants were aware of the dangers of tobacco smoking, it was clear that most of them remain confused about e-cigarettes and whether or not they were just as dangerous.
Some of the participants said they have seen media coverage reporting that vape pens are just as bad as conventional cigarettes. As a result, they were reluctant and uncertain about using the devices.
With that, McKeganey said it was concerning that inaccurate perceptions of e-cigarettes could result to the persistent use of tobacco, regardless of the fact that the Public Health of England concluded that vaping is 95 percent less harmful than traditional cigarettes.
Furthermore, participants were concerned about the long-term effects of e-cigarettes.
One participant mentioned the fact that it took more than 40 years before scientists distinguished the negative effects of cigarette smoking. The participant believes the effect of vaping won't be any worse than the effects of smoking, but there is still a question mark on its long-term impact.
McKeganey said others share the same concern, which he considers worrisome. He said it is apparent that this idea is a persistent view expressed by the youth.
In the end, McKeganey said that what is clear about their study is that the "e-cigarettes are a gateway" theory is not manifesting. He said the effect was quite the opposite.
Details of the study were presented at the Global Forum on Nicotine.