Cancer Research Group: Vaping Isn't A ‘Gateway Drug’


11th Apr 2023

Cancer Research Group: Vaping Isn't A ‘Gateway Drug’


Cancer Research UK Argues Vaping Is Not A Gateway

An unfortunate myth about vaping is that it can act as a ‘gateway drug,’ inducing people who are otherwise not inclined to start smoking. This tale has been debunked over the years, but it’s still frequently repeated in media reports as a new generation of parents have been conditioned to see nicotine devices as a threat to their teenagers.

One study, conducted by Cancer Research UK, is often cited in these media reports. Now, that group is fighting back against the stigmatization of vaping as a gateway drug from media outlets citing their research. The paper is called “The Association Between Smoking and Electronic Cigarette Use in a Cohort of Young People” and looked at teenagers' use of e-cigarettes.

The Study

The UK research team says that their study has been misinterpreted by media sources that assign causality between the use of e-cigarettes and the use of combustible cigarettes. This misinterpretation of causality has lead to scaremongering headlines that say that that the study showed “strong evidence of a so-called ‘gateway effect’” between e-cigarettes and smoking. It’s just as possible, however, that smoking combustible cigarettes “caused” someone to use an e-cigarette as the other way around.

When looking at the data, the findings deliver a different narrative than typical reports in the media. Proportionally in the UK, the number of young people that used vapor products on a monthly basis was very low - less than two percent - even lower than teens using cigarettes - which was less than five percent.

The research group says that while the study looked at the impact that e-cigarettes and combustible cigarettes have on teenagers, they didn’t look at long term impacts or draw conclusions as to who would have tried cigarettes anyway, or who would eventually become regular users.


Carl Alexander from Cancer Research UK had this to say on the company’s website: “While this study shows young people who experiment with e-cigarettes are likely to try smoking and vice versa,  the researchers didn’t look at whether the youngsters then became regular users or whether they might have tried smoking anyway. Research like this is important to help us understand the potential impact of e-cigarettes on young people.”

Furthermore, the study found that it’s more common for young people to have tried smoking than e-cigarettes: only 21 participants in the study had tried an e-cigarette but not smoked, compared with 118 who had tried smoking but not e-cigarettes.