New Aussie study debunks vaping ‘gateway’ theory; Refutes need for flavor bans

Vaping in Australia is quite different from that of the United States.  E-liquids and e-cigs cannot even be legally purchased without a valid prescription from an Australian-registered medical practitioner.  Foreign visitors can import up to a three-month supply of their own vapor products, but they will still require an Aussie doctor’s prescription to purchase more. 

While significantly more restrictive that the United States in regard to federal vapor regulations, Australia is still considering a total ban on the sales of all vapor products nationwide.  Supporters of a vaping ban base their arguments on the increasingly debunked theory that vaping is a gateway to smoking. However – like most federal governments – Aussie lawmakers tend not to believe foreign research unless verified by their own academics.

Related Article:  Australia releases vape device with biometric technology that links to your doctor

New findings recently published by Australian scientists Colin Mendelsohn and Wayne Hall in the International Journal of Drug Policy not only debunks the popular anti-vaping theory but further indicates that vaping actually acts as a roadblock to smoking rather than a gateway.  In the review entitled, Does the gateway theory justify a ban on nicotine vaping in Australia, Mendelsohn and Hall suggest that certain personality traits tend to make some young people more prone to experimentation with either vaping or smoking.  Thankfully, vaping is approximately 95 percent less harmful.

Teen vaping, smoking, and ‘risk-taker’ traits


The co-authors refer to specific “risk-taker“ personality traits commonly seen in teenagers who are more likely to engage in smoking, cannabis use, alcohol consumption, or unsafe sex.  Mendelsohn and Hall also note that most teens first experiment with smoking before trying an e-cigarette.  It is very rare for the experimentation to occur the other way around. 

“The association between nicotine vaping and cigarette smoking provides weak support for a gateway hypothesis. Smoking more often precedes vaping than vice versa, regular vaping by never-smokers is rare and the association is more plausibly explained by a common liability model. If there is a gateway effect, it is small at the population level because smoking prevalence has continued to decline despite an increased uptake of vaping in countries that allow it.”

This argument has already been emphasized by several public health experts in multiple, previously-published studies, but the Mendelsohn-Hall research presents several new key findings:

  • “Smoking usually precedes vaping.” Statistics indicate that between 70-85 percent of teen smokers experiment with vaping after having already started smoking.
  • Most teenage vaping is experimental and infrequent.
  • Regular vaping by youth or adults is rare among never-smokers – generally only about one-percent or less of the population.
  • A significant percentage of teen vapers are using zero-nicotine e-liquids. Only those who are current or former smokers tend to use the nicotine-enhanced e-juices.
  • In the US, less than four-percent of the non-smoking youth who vape have symptoms of nicotine dependence.
  • Youth smoking rates have declined substantially and rapidly in the US, the UK, and Australia since the introduction of vaping, making it even more improbable that vaping is more of a roadblock than a gateway smoking. In fact, it is highly more likely that these teenage “risk-takers” are diverting from their proclivities  to smoke by choosing the 95 percent less harmful alternative of vaping instead.

Co-authors Mendelsohn and Hall further state that research indicates that federal vaping bans are never a good idea – especially with teenagers who possess these risk-taker personality traits.  Rebellious teenagers always seem to find a way.  Instead, federal governments’ primary role should be in the creation and implementation of a revised regulatory structure “that would address legitimate concerns about preventing adolescent uptake while allowing adult smokers to access these products for cessation or as an alternative to smoking cigarettes.”

Related Article:  Did the CDC just confirm that vaping is NOT a gateway to teen smoking?

(Images courtesy of Shutterstock)

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