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expert reaction to new study on e-cigarette use in US adolescents

The effect of e-cigarettes on uptake and cessation of smoking of conventional cigarettes is an active area of research and debate, and a group of scientists have published their work in JAMA Pediatrics reporting that in a sample of US young people, use of e-cigarettes was associated with progression to “traditional cigarette smoking”.


Prof. Ann McNeill, Professor of Tobacco Addiction at the National Addiction Centre, King’s College London, said:

“The study focuses on only 16 people, aged 16-26 years, who had tried an e-cigarette at baseline and were deemed ‘non-susceptible’ to cigarette smoking. Hence trying an e-cigarette had not, at this point, made them susceptible to smoking cigarettes. Sadly, therefore, this study cannot throw any light at all on what influenced a proportion of these 16 people to soften their attitudes towards cigarettes smoking or try a traditional cigarette one year later. It is unfortunate that the authors refer to ‘smoking’ e-cigarettes as e-cigarettes are not burned, do not emit smoke and are not smoked. By blurring the lines between these two very different products, it is unsurprising that people will experiment with both of them thinking they offer similar risks.”


Prof. Robert West, Professor of Health Psychology, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, UCL, said:

“This kind of propaganda by major medical journals brings public health science into disrepute and is grist to the mill of apologists for the tobacco industry who accuse us of ‘junk science’.”


Prof. Peter Hajek, Professor of Clinical Psychology and Director of the Tobacoo Dependence Research Unit, Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), said:

“The study does not show that vaping leads to smoking. Among 16 non-smokers who tried vaping, 6 also reported that they tried at least one puff of a cigarette over the following year. This was predictably a higher proportion than among non-smokers who did not try vaping. People who like to try things go on trying things. The study actually confirms the obvious intuition about one characteristic of this group: the 16 experimenters had significantly higher ‘sensation seeking’ score (measured by items such as ‘I like to do dangerous things’) than the other 678 participants.

“Some grossly misleading terminology is used which may have also contributed to misinterpreting the study results. People who tried vaping once are not ‘e-cigarette users’ just as people who tried one puff on a cigarette are not ‘smokers’.

“The study just confirms that cigarettes and e-cigarettes attract the same people who like trying risky things.”


‘Progression to traditional cigarette smoking after electronic cigarette use among US adolescents and young adults’ by Brain A. Primack et al. will be published in JAMA Pediatrics on Tuesday 8th September. 


All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:


The SMC produced a Factsheet on E-cigarettes which is available here:  


Declared interests

Prof. Ann McNeill:
None declared.

Prof. Robert West: I have not and will not accept any kind of funds, payments or hospitality from companies that make e-cigarettes because of the risk of being perceived as tainted on that count. I undertake research and consultancy for companies that manufacture smoking cessation medications and licensed nicotine replacement products. My salary is funded by Cancer Research UK.

Prof. Peter Hajek: I received research funding and provided consultancy for manufacturers of stop-smoking medications. I have no links with any e-cigarette manufacturers, my research into safety and effects of e-cigarettes is funded by MHRA, PHE, NIHR and UKCTAS.

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