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Are E-Cigarettes a ‘Gateway Drug’ for the Young?

15th September 2014

Claims are being made by American researchers, which are strongly rebutted by British researchers, that e-cigarettes may cause people to take up smoking, acting as a so-called gateway drug. These claims are iffy at best.

But it is theoretically possible that young people may occasionally take up vaping who had never previously smoked. For this reason the law to increase the legal age of vaping to 18 is something we welcome as a precaution, and agree that e-cigarettes and e-liquids should never be marketed at the young.

But, as we have published recently, the evidence seems to suggest that nicotine is not the whole reason why tobacco is so addictive. The cigarette contains other substances that in the available literature on animal research, increase the addictiveness of nicotine strongly. These compounds are MAO inhibitors, that are missing from e-cigarettes. If this research translates to humans, and with the other precautions listed above, the numbers of children and adolescents taking up smoking and then getting hooked long term, could turn out to be less if e-cigarettes were to totally replace the normal cigarette.

This is a possibility that the researchers have not yet examined.

Besides this, the evidence in Britain is that very few people have taken up e-cigarettes that had never smoked. It also shows that e-cigarettes are becoming more popular than other nicotine replacement therapy, and are either as effective in helping people quit, or are strongly more effective. This means that e-cigarettes should be able to save lives.

From an occupational hazard point of view (second-hand smoking or vaping products) e-cigarettes also do not appear to be a concern for others, although because nicotine can have potentially harmful effects on the wiring of adolescent and children's brains, concerns would still exist about vaping near children and in pregnancy, so vapers should exercise self restraint around young people and the pregnant (although these risks are likely low they remain theoretical and so precaution should apply at this stage.) Whilst nicotine levels exhaled are very low, the main toxicity to brain wiring from nicotine to children and adolescents was not so much second hand smoke but directly smoking. In adults, the evidence is that nicotine is a potent anti-inflammatory in the brain and may even have health benefits - potentially harmful in youngsters, but not in adults. The main dangers of second hand smoke were always the presence of other toxins, like reactive aldehydes, which exist at vastly lower levels in e-cigarette vapour.

Given all this concern about second-hand vapour, perhaps the WHO and the American Lung Association should examine the effects of the diesel engines running around our streets which have very high toxicity, and even with extensive particulate filtration and catalytic converters, do not filter out the most toxic fraction of the fumes, small particulates that lodge in the lungs and pass into the blood, and are persistent and cause inflammation, linked to lung cancer, blood cancer, depression, heart disease and more. Instead various government agencies actually encouraged this problem by promoting low carbon diesel vehicles. A question of priorities needs to be raised here.