Are e-cigarettes a good thing, encouraging people to abandon far more dangerous tobacco products?
Or, are they a gateway to cigarette smoking, seducing new generations of youth into nicotine addiction, and high risk of disease and death?
Two experts in the field, including a University at Buffalo researcher, surveyed the evidence and offer their answer to this central question in the debate between e-cigarette opponents and proponents in a new essay in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
"While research exists to support either side of the argument, we conclude, currently, that youth use of e-cigarettes is unlikely to increase the ranks of future cigarette smokers," said Lynn Kozlowski, the paper’s lead author and a UB professor of community health and health behavior, and Kenneth Warner, a professor of public health in Michigan’s School of Public Health.
The researchers, who focused their attention on youths, acknowledge that the use of e-cigarettes – known as vaping – is not risk-free. But they say the dangers fall far short of the fears of the products' opponents. At best, they wrote, the scientific literature supports that a minority of the relatively small number of e-cigarette triers will go on to some experimentation with cigarettes.
“The national trends in vaping and cigarette smoking do not support the argument that vaping is leading to smoking,” Kozlowski said in a statement.
Indeed, research in the United States shows that as use of e-cigarettes has increased, overall smoking rates have decreased, he said.
Even if e-cigarettes serve as a gateway to smoking for a small portion of youth, Kozlowski and Warner argue that the benefits of vaping likely outweigh the health-related costs because, on balance, e-cigarettes lead more more people to quit smoking. Moreover, they said informed regulations on e-cigarette marketing and pricing can help deter youths from starting to vape.
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