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Harvard University Finds Teens Would Be Vaping If Not Smoking

New Study Suggests Teens Who Vape Would Have Otherwise Smoked

While certain states have introduced various measures to curtail teens taking up vaping, a recent study suggests that new youth vapers may have otherwise been cigarette smokers. When presented with this information, it could be argued that harm reduction is not lessened by restricting vape products and instead could push younger vapers to products that are proven to be harmful.


What are the Findings of the Study?

The study makes several pertinent points that should indicate that banning or limiting vaping products is counterproductive when held against the measure of ‘public health’. 

The study took data from ‘Monitoring the Future 12th-grade data’ between the years of 2009 – 2018. It also took account of a variety of factors that would affect a propensity to smoke. This could include things like socio demographic trends, family background, and school-related variables.

The key points of the study were as follows: 


Vaping has led to a decrease in cigarette smoking

The study states:

“The decline in current smoking among 12th graders has accelerated since e-cigarettes have become available.”

This would appear to indicate that those youths who would have normally smoked have replaced conventional cigarettes with electronic nicotine delivery devices.

This general overview is further backed up by other sources that make similar observations.


Those who vape may have been likely to smoke had vaping been unavailable

The study makes a couple of interesting points. When discussing those who do vape, it states:

“E-cigarette use is largely concentrated among youth who share characteristics with smokers of the pre-vaping era, suggesting e-cigarettes may have replaced cigarette smoking.”

The key phrase in the above quote is the suggestion that e-cigarettes have effectively supplanted smoking. While the health effects of vaping have been proven to be less harmful than tobacco, smoking has been proven to be extremely harmful to health. 

When asked to balance the risks, it is well documented that smoking definitely causes significant harm. While vaping lacks the same historical data (unlike tobacco), it has been around for long enough to prove that it is a much safer alternative and is an effective smoking cessation tool.

The study also makes another interesting point. It also ascertains that those who were least likely to smoke are also the least likely to vape.

This is an important point. Many opponents of vaping are adamant that vaping ‘acts as a gateway to cigarettes’. However, the study suggests that regardless of the method for nicotine delivery, those who aren’t predisposed to vape aren’t predisposed to smoking either.


Electronic cigarettes could be an important tool in reducing harm

Anything that reduces the number of conventional cigarettes smoked could only be perceived as a good thing. 

While research is ongoing into the long-term effects of vaping, it should certainly be seen to be the ‘lesser of two evils’. A report by Cochrane states that as a result of using e-cigarettes, more people stop smoking for at least six months, and they were more effective than other types of nicotine replacement therapy. 


Why Do Teens Smoke?

In light of the study mentioned above, it is worth looking at other factors that lead a young individual to take up smoking and examine why these factors will exist with or without vaping….

 The reasons can include factors such as: 

  • Peer Pressure

Young adults like to feel a sense of ‘belonging’ and being part of the group. Traditionally smoking was one such way that a young adult could easily become accepted. However, peer pressure is not only associated with vaping. There are numerous factors and situations that could cause an individual to submit to peer pressure. 

  • Family History of Nicotine Use

It is highly likely that if an individual comes from a family of smokers, then they are more likely to smoke too. The normalization of tobacco use in a family is entirely independent from vaping. Smoking and vaping, while both use nicotine, are not the same thing. 

  • Rebellion

Teenage rebellion is considered a natural process and is to be expected. It is a phenomenon that has existed long before vaping was ever created. While anti-vaping legislation would make it more difficult to acquire nicotine products, just as with cigarettes and alcohol, it wouldn’t prevent it entirely. Some could even argue that, just like with traditional smoking, making something prohibited increases its appeal. 

  • Clever Marketing

In recent times, e-cigarette manufacturers have entered the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. While there is no doubt that these marketing practices could be said to be unethical, they don’t exist in a vacuum. 

Big tobacco brands have used several, much more direct, methods to encourage youths to smoke. This includes the use of targeted social media, updates to make packaging more youth-friendly, and even promoting boat parties to give the impression of smoking being ‘glamorous’.

  • Unavailability of Alternatives

Other recent studies have shown that placing restrictions on vaping products may have damaged public health and caused a reversal in what was a positive trend.

In San Francisco, for the first time in 10 years, rates of smoking increased. In addition, a study from JAMA concluded that young people who would otherwise vape would smoke as an alternative. 


Is it Better to Vape or Smoke?

It has been proven through decades of research that smoking is extremely harmful to health. Each year over 480,000 people die of smoking-related illnesses. So there is no doubt that smoking tobacco is highly likely to prove fatal or cause long-term health risks.

When it comes to vaping, the same cannot be said to be true. Research is still ongoing into the effects of vaping, but studies over the last 10 years have shown no long term health risks. It is fair to say that vaping probably isn’t as healthy as breathing pure fresh air. However, what can also be said is that vaping is less harmful than smoking

On the one hand, you have a product that has been proven to be fatal, given enough use. On the other hand, you have a product that has allowed thousands of people to be more likely to give up cigarettes for good.

Based on the above study, it has been shown that those who vape were, in all probability, just as likely to smoke had vaping not been available. Thus, when you look at the confirmed harms of cigarettes against the theoretical uncertainty of vaping, currently proposed restrictions seem to make little sense. Instead, they may simply serve to push ‘rebellious’ teens towards products that are far more dangerous.

Jamie G.

After being a smoker for several years, I discovered vaping when a friend bought me a disposable e-cigarette. Since then, I've worked my way up through various devices, becoming an expert in rebuildable tanks, atomizers, and all things to do with vaping. I even make my own e-juice! You’ll find me on the weekend, toolkit in hand, surrounded by box mods, wicks, and wires, trying to get the perfect cloud.

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