Young vapers are not substantially more likely to take up smoking, experts have said, although they cannot rule out that vaping is harmful.
A new study found that those aged 18 to 24 who puffed on e-cigarettes did not tend to use them as a “gateway” to regular smoking.
However, experts estimated that around 10% of 16 to 17-year-olds will go on to smoke as a direct result of vaping.
The report, published in the journal Addiction, examined e-cigarette use in England among young adults between 2007 and 2018.
Last year, a study from Public Health England (PHE) suggested that, of those aged 11 to 18, smoking and vaping rates remain steady, with around 7% smoking and 5% vaping.
Selling vaping products to anyone aged under 18 is illegal, but the PHE report suggested three quarters of current vapers aged 11 to 17 had managed to buy their own vaping supplies.
Of the 11 to 18-year-olds who vaped, 12% reported doing so to quit smoking.
The main reasons given for vaping were to “give it a try”, “for fun/I like it” and “liking the flavours”.
E-cigarettes contain nicotine and are not risk-free, though experts tend to agree they are less harmful than smoking and can be a useful quitting aid.
Vaping equipment is likely to soon be prescribed on the NHS in England in a bid to wean people off regular smoking.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates medical products in the US, approved one e-cigarette last year after deciding the benefit to adults trying to quit smoking outweighs the risk of teenagers becoming hooked.
The permitted products in the US are tobacco-flavoured, as opposed to the sweet flavours popular with younger people on both sides of the Atlantic.
The findings suggest that the large gateway effects reported in previous studies can be ruled outDr Emma Beard, UCL
In the new Addiction study, a team from University College London (UCL) reviewed data for England from the Smoking Toolkit Study.
Lead author, Dr Emma Beard, said the “findings suggest that the large gateway effects reported in previous studies can be ruled out, particularly among those aged 18 to 24.
“However, we cannot rule out a smaller gateway effect and we did not study younger age groups.
“If the upper estimates are true, we would estimate that of the 74,000 e-cigarette users aged 16 to 17 in England, around 7,000 would become ever regular smokers as a consequence of e-cigarette use.
“At the same time, approximately 50,000 smokers are estimated to quit per year as a consequence of e-cigarette use.”
Professor Lion Shahab, senior author, added: “These findings are important given the contrasting advice given by health bodies and governments in different countries.
“Research to date supports the argument that e-cigarettes are less harmful than tobacco and help smokers to stop smoking.
“Although some harm from vaping relative to never vaping cannot be ruled out, this study suggests there is little evidence of a substantial gateway effect into smoking.”