E-cigarettes could be prompting UK teens to start smoking traditional cigarettes, study finds

Even though regular vaping is uncommon among UK teenagers, e-cigarettes may lead them to smoke traditional cigarrettes for the first time, research finds.

Teenager smoking an e-cigarette

E-cigarette use may be prompting UK teenagers to start smoking traditional cigarettes, according to the results of the first study of its kind. 

Researchers found that within 12 months of trying an e-cigarette, 34% of teenagers went on to smoke a traditional cigarette for the first time.

That figure compared with 9% who tried a cigarette within the same 12 months but had never tried an e-cigarette.

Young people who described themselves as occasional smokers and had also tried e-cigarettes were nearly twice as likely to try a traditional cigarette in the 12-month period compared with others who tried smoking but had never tried an e-cigarette (12.9% compared to 24.2%).

However, writing in the journal Tobacco Control (online, 17 August 2017), researchers say their findings should be treated with caution because of the “limited numbers escalating their cigarette use … and lack of support in other studies. 

“While acknowledging that a causal relationship may be plausible, we cannot confirm this based on our findings and the trends observed over the same time period in the UK; rates of e-cigarette use have increased, but the rates of cigarette use have continued to decline.” More research was needed to confirm any link, they said[1]

Commenting on the findings, Hazel Cheeseman, director of policy at the charity Action on Smoking and Health said that “despite eye-catching headlines,” this study had found nothing new.

She stressed that regular vaping remained uncommon among UK teens and although there was a need to continue to monitor the potential impact of vaping on young people, it was hardly surprising that those who smoked were more likely to have vaped and vice versa.

“Individual studies such as this one should be seen in the light of the positive population data which shows that not many teens vape and overall smoking rates have declined significantly among young people in recent years,” she added. 

Rosanna O’Connor, director of drugs, alcohol and tobacco, Public Health England said: “While young people’s experimentation with e-cigarettes has been going up, smoking rates have been falling fast. In US studies claiming similar findings, the actual numbers of young people who go from vaping to smoking are very small.”

She said new UK research will be published later this year bringing together multiple UK studies and added that all the studies find that while experimentation with vaping by young people is not uncommon, regular use is rare with the great majority being current or ex-smokers.

The researchers based their conclusions on the results of the changing smoking habits over 12 months of 2,836 young people aged between 13 and 14, from 20 schools in England. At the outset, 61.5% had not tried e-cigarettes or cigarettes, 16.0% had tried e-cigarettes but not cigarettes, 4.4% had tried cigarettes but not e-cigarettes and 18.2% had used both.


[1] Conner M, Grogan S, Simms-Ellis R et al. Do electronic cigarettes increase cigarette smoking in UK adolescents? Evidence from a 12-month prospective study. Tob Control 2017. doi: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2016-053539

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, August 2017, Vol 299, 7904;299(7904):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2017.20203419

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