Last week, Professor Mark Conner, the lead author of a study into the progression from vaping into smoking, admitted that he could not conclude there was a causal link. He 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.”
While he claims people should be cautious about making policy decisions, it seems the same level of circumspection does not apply to academics earning a few quid from writing a salacious newspaper article. Conner took to the keyboard and bashed away for The Independent: “There was an almost fourfold increased chance of starting to smoke among those young people who had used an e-cigarette. This is worrying because it is known that once someone starts to smoke, the chances that they will continue to smoke are high.”
He goes on to state: “The long-term trend in the UK is for e-cigarette use to go up while smoking declines. Future research is now needed to disentangle these apparently contrary findings.”
Some might suggest that perhaps Conner should have worked out what the disconnect is, between him claiming there is a gateway effect and the falling smoking rates, prior to writing his remunerated article.
Finding where his logical errors lay would have saved Conner some egg on face, because, over in The Guardian, a headline loudly disagreed with him: “Young people who try e-cigarettes are not more likely to take up smoking as a result, according to a substantial new study”.
The new study in question is one conducted by a number of academics already well known to the vaping community: Linda Bauld, Anne Marie MacKintosh, Brian Eastwood, Allison Ford, Graham Moore, Martin Dockrell, Deborah Arnott, Hazel Cheeseman and Ann McNeill. As well as three universities, the group represents the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, Public Health England, Action on Smoking and Health.
The study, far more comprehensive than Conner’s single attempt, was based on five separate substantial surveys, gathering data from 2015 to 2017, making it the single most far reaching study undertaken to date. It bore out previous comments made on the subject: “A tenth to a fifth of 11- to 16-year-olds had tried e-cigarettes, but only 3% or less used them regularly and those were mostly already tobacco smokers. Among young people who have never smoked, regular use of e-cigarettes was negligible, say the authors, at between only 0.1% and 0.5%.”
Linda Bauld, is quoted as saying: “Recent studies have generated alarming headlines that e-cigarettes are leading to smoking. Our analysis of the latest surveys from all parts of the United Kingdom, involving thousands of teenagers shows clearly that for those teens who don’t smoke, e-cig experimentation is simply not translating into regular use. Our study also shows that smoking rates in young people are continuing to decline. Future studies on this subject need to continue to monitor both experimentation and regular use of e-cigarettes and take into account trends in tobacco use if we are to provide the public with accurate information.”