In the United States, federal agencies and private organizations have pushed the narrative that the use of e-cigarettes threatens to get more people “hooked” on combustible products, leading to laws that have reduced the availability of non-smoke alternatives.
A new study from the United Kingdom, a country that recognizes and promotes vaping as a harm reduction intervention to smoking, found that most adult vapers buck the behavioral trajectory alleged across the Atlantic.
In 2020, more than half (58 percent) of UK adult vapers are ex-smokers—a proportion that’s been trending upwards since 2014. Meanwhile the proportion of adult vapers who are also current smokers has been on the decline—this year hitting 38 percent, compared with 65 percent six years ago, according to a YouGov survey commissioned by Action on Smoking and Health, a UK-based organization aiming to end global harms of tobacco. Only 2 percent of the vapers were never-smokers.
Overall, 60 percent of the adult vapers identified their health as their “number one reason for taking up e-cigarettes.” That parallels findings that the top three specific reasons for vaping are to help with quitting cigarettes (30 percent), prevent relapse to smoking (20 percent) and reduce the number of cigarettes smoked (11 percent).
For Michael Landl, director of the Vapers’ World Alliance, the YouGov results suggest that “vaping is a gateway away from smoking.” After all, “e-cigarettes target tobacco consumers,” said Maria Chaplia, European affairs associate at the Consumer Choice Center, something she noted that “[m]ost anti-vaping arguments fail to take into account.”
“Just like sugar substitutes help people to reduce their sugar intake, e-cigarettes help people to quit smoking,” Chaplia continued. “We don’t blame sugar substitutes for increased sugar consumption, yet doing so for e-cigarettes seems to be acceptable.”
To be clear, vaping does not work for everyone as a so-called gateway out of smoking. Almost half of smokers have tried but no longer use e-cigarettes. Most commonly, 22 percent of them said it “did not feel like smoking a cigarette.” Two other reasons were that they didn’t quell cravings (16 percent) and that they had just wanted to try it (12 percent).
But when 8 million people, worldwide, die of smoking-related causes each year, any widespread exit route is hugely significant.