E-cigarettes are a gateway to cigarettes for non-smokers, according to new research from the Australian National University (ANU).
Researchers from the ANU and the University of Melbourne reviewed the worldwide evidence on e-cigarettes and smoking behaviour in an Australian context and found non-smokers who used e-cigarettes were around three times as likely to take up conventional smoking.
“Our findings support concerns that e-cigarettes are a gateway to smoking, especially among young people,” said the University of Melbourne’s Olivia Baenziger.
The research also looked at the use of e-cigarettes as a tool to quit smoking and found ex-smokers using e-cigarettes were more than twice as likely to relapse. Guidelines from The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) list e-cigarettes as a “last resort”.
“Most people who give up smoking successfully don’t use any products like patches or medication to do it – they do it by themselves, for example by going cold turkey,” said lead researcher Emily Banks from the ANU.
“Our review found that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to conclude that e-cigarettes are effective for quitting smoking compared to other approaches, but there are promising signs that they have potential to help,” Professor Banks said.
“The evidence also indicates that e-cigarettes tend to lead to prolonged use of nicotine, rather than quitting the habit entirely.”
According to the researchers, Australia’s tobacco control is “world-leading”; 11% of adults smoke daily, while 97% of young Australians aged 14 to 17 have never smoked.
“There are around 2.3 million smokers in Australia, and it is our number one cause of premature death and disability,” Professor Banks said.
“Avoiding e-cigarettes in non-smokers is vital to keeping progress going against smoking.”
“Australia is in a great position to use the best possible evidence to protect the health of future generations, while supporting smokers to quit,” Professor Banks said.
“There is a lot of pressure from companies and individuals who stand to make millions from e-cigarettes.
“We definitely don’t want something widely available that is going to increase people taking up smoking.”