Reality check: Study says the more young people vape, the less they smoke

A new study has shown that as the number of young people who vape or use e-cigarettes grows, the amount of them who smoke has gone down.

The study, done by Georgetown University Medical Center and published in the Tobacco Control journal, looked at data of children in Grade 10 and 12 between 2013-2017 and found that when vaping became popular in 2014, the rate of youth who smoke dropped at least twice as much as previous years.

“This finding is important because it indicates the [U.S.] experienced a major reduction in youth and young adult cigarette smoking when vaping became more popular,” study author David Levy said in a release.

“Vaping has had a positive effect on reducing cigarette smoking. On a population level, any effect that vaping may have had act as a gateway to cigarette smoking during the time frame examined appears to be small relative to the effects of vaping leading to less smoking,” Levy says.

But Robert Schwartz, University of Toronto professor and executive director of the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit, warns that while there may be an association, there’s no way to tell if the drop in smoking was directly caused by the increase in vaping.

“They’ve found an association; as vaping has gone up smoking has gone down,” he explained. “That doesn’t mean that vaping has caused a decrease in smoking.

“Does it mean that people who vape are not picking up smoking? I don’t know if we can actually tell that from this study.”

The correlation is much different from previous data: a 2017 study of more than 44,000 high school students in Ontario and Alberta showed a “strong and robust” linkage between so-called vaping and subsequent tobacco use.

But Levy explained to Global News that it’s hard to know whether or not a high schooler who smokes did so because they tried vaping first.

“If they would have smoked anyway, we shouldn’t be as alarmed about vaping, but unfortunately that kind of thing is hard to tease out,” he said.

“So what we’re doing is looking at what’s been happening overall with smoking and vaping.”

“Any effect that vaping may have had act as a gateway to cigarette smoking during the time frame examined appears to be small relative to the effects of vaping leading to less smoking,” he explained.

Levy also explained that “the trends indicate, at worst, that vaping didn’t increase smoking, and at best, they might have drastically reduced smoking.”

He also said more data would be needed on other outside effects — such as government policies or anti-smoking campaigns — so he would like to look over more years before drawing firm conclusions.

Is Vaping better than smoking?

A 2017 study from the U.K found people who swapped out smoking for e-cigarettes for at least six months had “much lower” levels of toxic and cancer-causing substances in their body.

But there are still many unknown factors when using e-cigarettes, including the fact that e-juices are not regulated by Health Canada.

And Schwartz says long-term vaping is still going to lead to respiratory and heart disease.

“We know there’s substantial evidence that vaping leads to dependence on e-cigarettes,” Schwartz explained. “this is a big concern, because vaping is not benign.”

For smokers, it’s better to switch to vaping, but for non-smokers it’s better to not vape or smoke at all.

He also said in his recent studies, he’s seen that people who vape have no intention of stopping.

According to Health Canada’s website, vaping can expose people to various other substances, depending on the device they use.

“In some cases, vaping liquid containers have enough nicotine to be poisonous to young children,” the website reads. “Children must be prevented from getting vaping liquid and vaping product safety is regulated by Health Canada.”

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