The study was published in the British Medical Journal's Tobacco Control journal. The method used to obtain the results, unlike the twisting of data favoured by some in the States, involved data being collected “as part of a 4-year cluster randomised controlled trial of a school-based smoking initiation intervention.”
They used information obtained directly from 2836 adolescents in 20 schools. To ensure that the research was ethical, the team ensured: “Head teachers consented to school participation with parents given the option to withdraw children from the study. Adolescents consented by completing questionnaires matched across time points using a personally generated code.”
The study found: “A significant minority of adolescents try e-cigarettes first (19.9% here) and later initiate cigarette use. Our findings also indicated that the association between ever use of e-cigarettes and initiation of cigarette use was particularly strong among adolescents with no friends who smoked, a group usually considered to be less susceptible to smoking initiation.”
So does this mean there is a gateway from vaping to smoking?
Lead author Mark Conner, University of Leeds, said: “While acknowledging that a causal relationship may be plausible, we cannot confirm this based on our findings and the trends observed over the same period in the UK. 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.”
Robert West, professor of health psychology at University College London, said: “It seems unlikely that e-cigarette use by young people is causing more of them to smoke, because smoking rates in this age group now are declining at least as fast as they were before e-cigarettes started to become popular.”
Linda Bauld, professor of health policy at the University of Stirling, said: “It simply shows that some teenagers who try an e-cigarette might go on to try tobacco, and on both occasions it could be just once.”
“If e-cigarettes were causing smoking, then the steady decline in youth smoking we've seen in national surveys in recent years would be reversed. But it's not - smoking amongst young people in the UK is at an all-time low.”
It is probably important for the media to remember that Public Health England says vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking, and is a good way to help people give up tobacco.