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E-cigarette users at greater risk of turning to traditional smoking

Media release

Three in five Australian young adults who currently use e-cigarettes are likely to initiate tobacco cigarette smoking in the next six months, new research led by Curtin University has found.

Close-up of a man vaping an electronic cigarette

The research, published in the International Journal of Drug Policy and funded by Healthway, examined whether people who have never smoked and currently use or have previously used e-cigarettes are more susceptible to smoking tobacco cigarettes.

Lead author Dr Michelle Jongenelis, from the School of Psychology at Curtin University, said recent calls to relax current Australian regulations related to e-cigarettes could result in an increase in the use of conventional cigarettes, especially among young adults.

“Tobacco smoking is one of the leading causes of preventable illness and premature death globally, and the introduction of smoking via the use of electronic cigarettes is a considerable threat to tobacco control. Although e-cigarettes are less harmful than conventional cigarettes, they still contain a number of harmful substances that should be avoided,” Dr Jongenelis said.

“To assist in guiding the development of policy in Australia, our study examined whether e-cigarettes serve as a gateway product to conventional smoking and contribute to the development of a new population of cigarette smokers.

“We found that young Australian adults who had never smoked, but were either currently or had previously used e-cigarettes, were significantly more curious about trying a tobacco cigarette, more willing to smoke, and reported a greater intention of smoking in the next six months compared to those who had never used an e-cigarette.”

The research also found that one in five people who had tried an e-cigarette, even just one or two puffs, and three in five current users reported that they would probably or definitely smoke a tobacco cigarette in the future.

Dr Jongenelis explained that e-cigarette advocates have suggested that deregulating the devices could facilitate higher rates of smoking cessation, but there is insufficient evidence to prove this.

“Our findings suggest that until there is more evidence available, protecting adolescents and young adults from the harms associated with e-cigarette use should be a public health priority,” Dr Jongenelis said.

“This study shows there is a need to carefully ensure that e-cigarettes do not undermine decades of effective tobacco control efforts that have produced a substantial decrease in smoking prevalence rates globally.”

The research was co-authored by researchers from the School of Psychology at Curtin University, Cancer Council WA, and The University of Western Australia.

The paper, titled, ‘E-cigarette use is associated with susceptibility to tobacco use among Australian young adults,’ can be found online here.