New Study Shows Vaping is Not a Gateway to Smoking

New Study Shows Vaping is Not a Gateway to Smoking

October 21, 2022

A new study by University College London researchers challenges long-held beliefs by showing that vaping isn’t a gateway to smoking. 

The gateway theory has been at the centre of heated debate many times, but it remains an argument against vaping. The researchers behind the study sought to clarify once and for all how much of that belief is the product of scaremongering and how much is science. 

Research Findings From the University College London 

The University College London analysed the usage of traditional tobacco products and e-cigs in England between 2007 and 2018 by people aged 16 to 24. They sourced data from their Smoking Toolkit Study, which surveyed about 300 households monthly since 2006. 

The participants responded to surveys asking if they had used e-cigarettes or smoked tobacco products and how often. Results reviewed that 30.5% of those individuals were routine smokers, whilst only 2.9% used vapes.

Researchers from the study aimed to improve the credibility of their findings by eliminating self-selection bias. They evaluated the correlation between vaping and cigarettes at a population level rather than an individual level. They took the time series analysis approach, measuring the gateway effect of vaping by analysing the association between e-cigarette usage and the uptake of smoking. 

They reasoned that if the gateway effect did exist, they should be population-wide changes in the prevalence of smoking since there’s been an increase in vaping. However, as mentioned, the overall usage of cigarettes has fallen. In August 2019, a UCL study funded by Cancer Research UK found that the British public smoked 1.4 billion fewer cigarettes annually. These studies give an accurate picture of cigarette consumption since many news sites can leave out how cigarette usage has decreased. 

The study, published in Addiction, found no prevalence or previous research suggested young vapers were prone to smoking. According to the study, only one in ten teenagers that used e-cigarettes became tobacco smokers. 

Another interesting analysis is that whilst vaping rates have risen among the younger generation, smoking prevalence has fallen. One of the authors, Professor Lion Shahab, stated that the current research supports the argument that e-cigarettes are still less harmful than tobacco, helping smokers quit

How the Government Could Step In 

Besides the findings from this newly published study, the UK government may step in to help reduce the presence of irritants that can harm the lungs. 

The Local Government Association (LGA) urged the UK government to remove the VAT on vaping products. The LGA recommends reducing the VAT to 5%, which aligns with nicotine patches and gum sales. 

Furthermore, the association has even encouraged treating legal vaping products equally with other stop-smoking methods and making it more affordable to incentivise people to quit the habit. 

The jury is still out on whether vaping is helpful as a quitting aid. However, there are non-addictive vaping products that don’t contain any nicotine in them

Previous Supporting Evidence 

In the past, there have been several studies that support the current findings. A study published on the UK government public health site reported in February 2020 that e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful than tobacco products

This expert review concluded that e-cigarettes could potentially help tobacco smokers quit. Also, the study found no evidence to support that vaping was a gateway for children or non-smokers. Still, they cited that about 44.8% of the population haven’t realised that e-cigarettes are less harmful than smoking due to the information published by popular news sites. 

Other countries, like the United States, have passed restrictions on electronic cigarette sales to prevent the youth from using these products, believing that normalising vaping among young people will increase cigarette smoking rates. However, another study published in Preventative Medicine suggests otherwise. 

Researchers Kenneth E. Warner and Lynn T. Kozlowski published several insights in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, highlighting shortcomings of the idea that young people gravitate toward smoking cigarettes. They pointed out that the studies against vaping didn’t measure smoking intensity. 

For example, many of those studies found that having one puff of a cigarette would count as kickstarting a habit of cigarette smoking. Thus, according to Warner, much of the evidence published that spoke about the gateway relied on flawed assumptions. 


Whilst the latest findings can’t rule out minor gateway effects, it counters prevailing views and the information published by governments and large health bodies in some countries. Current research supports the findings that e-cigarettes are not gateway substances to tobacco smoking.

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