Pioneering Research Challenges Notion of E-Cigarettes Leading to Smoking

by Liam O'Connor
E-cigarettes study

A recent investigation by Queen Mary University of London has found that e-cigarettes and other nicotine substitutes are unlikely to lead to traditional smoking habits. In fact, they may be contributing to the decline of cigarette usage. This study, which involved comparing various nations, indicated a possible correlation between the increased use of such alternatives and a reduction in smoking. However, definitive proof of this relationship requires more extensive research.

The most exhaustive study so far into the role of e-cigarettes — whether they act as a gateway to or away from smoking — has found that, generally, e-cigarettes and comparable nicotine delivery alternatives are not prompting an increase in smoking habits.

This research, led by Queen Mary University of London and financially supported by the National Institute of Health and Care Research (NIHR), also proposes that these alternatives could be hastening the decrease in cigarette smoking. This is an initial observation, and more comprehensive data is necessary to fully understand the extent of this effect.

Research Approach and Comparative Analysis

The study analyzed the trends in the usage and sales of electronic cigarettes in relation to the rates and sales of cigarettes in countries with similar smoking histories but different regulations regarding e-cigarettes.

This involved comparing the UK and the USA with Australia, where the sale of nicotine-containing e-cigarettes is prohibited. The study also examined how smoking rates are affected by other popular nicotine alternatives in different countries, such as oral nicotine pouches in Sweden and tobacco heating products in Japan and South Korea.

Research Outcomes and Their Significance

The decrease in the number of smokers in Australia has been less pronounced than in the UK and, in particular, among young people and lower socioeconomic groups, slower than in both the UK and the USA. The reduction in cigarette sales has also been more rapid in the UK compared to Australia. In Japan, the rise in sales of heated tobacco products was linked with a noticeable decline in cigarette sales.

The researchers highlighted that since individuals may use both cigarettes and alternative products, there is an overlap in usage data, and thus longer-term studies are required to assess the impact of exclusive use of new products on smoking rates. They also emphasized the need for further data to confirm the extent to which alternative nicotine products are replacing traditional cigarettes.

Views from Experts

Professor Peter Hajek, Director of the Health and Lifestyle Research Unit at the Wolfson Institute of Population Health, Queen Mary University of London, stated: “This study’s findings dispel concerns that access to e-cigarettes and other low-risk nicotine products might promote smoking. There’s no evidence of that, and there are indications that they are, in fact, competing with cigarettes, though more long-term data is needed to gauge the magnitude of this effect.”

Professor Lion Shahab, Co-Director of the UCL Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group, remarked: “This detailed study offers reassurance that countries adopting a more liberal approach to e-cigarettes haven’t experienced negative effects on smoking rates. On the contrary, the findings imply that e-cigarettes might have substituted harmful cigarettes in these countries. However, ongoing monitoring of national data is crucial given the rapidly evolving nature of this field.”

Professor Brian Ferguson, Director of the Public Health Research Programme (NIHR), commented: “The preliminary results of this study are insightful, but definitive conclusions cannot be drawn at this stage. Further investigation is required to better understand the impact of alternative nicotine delivery systems like e-cigarettes on smoking trends.”

Reference: “Effects of reduced-risk nicotine-delivery products on smoking prevalence and cigarette sales: an observational study” by Francesca Pesola, Anna Phillips-Waller, Emma Beard, Lion Shahab, David Sweanor, Martin Jarvis, and Peter Hajek, September 2023, Public Health Research.
DOI: 10.3310/RPDN7327

This study was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about E-cigarettes study

Does the study indicate e-cigarettes lead to increased smoking?

No, the study by Queen Mary University of London suggests that e-cigarettes do not encourage smoking and might even be contributing to the decline of traditional cigarette use.

What does the study compare?

The study compares the usage and sales trends of e-cigarettes with those of traditional cigarettes in countries with similar historical smoking patterns but different e-cigarette regulations.

Are e-cigarettes banned in any of the studied countries?

Yes, the study includes Australia, where the sale of nicotine-containing e-cigarettes is banned, contrasting it with the UK and the USA.

What alternative nicotine products were considered in the study?

The study also looked at oral nicotine pouches popular in Sweden and tobacco heating products widely used in Japan and South Korea.

What were the findings regarding smoking trends in different countries?

The study found that the decline in smoking rates and cigarette sales was more pronounced in the UK compared to Australia. It also observed a significant decrease in cigarette sales in Japan with the rise of heated tobacco products.

What do experts say about the study’s findings?

Experts like Professor Peter Hajek and Professor Lion Shahab suggest the study alleviates concerns that e-cigarettes promote smoking. Instead, they may compete against traditional cigarettes, but more data is needed to confirm this.

What is the implication of this study for future research?

The study indicates the need for more extensive research to fully understand the impact of e-cigarettes and other nicotine alternatives on smoking trends.

More about E-cigarettes study

  • Queen Mary University of London
  • National Institute of Health and Care Research
  • Public Health Research journal
  • UCL Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group
  • Electronic cigarette regulations in Australia
  • Tobacco heating products in Japan and South Korea
  • Oral nicotine pouches in Sweden

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David P. November 19, 2023 - 2:16 am

Queen Mary University is doing some great work here. It’s crucial to look at these trends globally, not just in one country.

Linda G. November 19, 2023 - 6:01 am

This is interesting, but what about the effects on youth? Are they more likely to start with e-cigs and then move to cigarettes?

Alex R. November 19, 2023 - 12:04 pm

I think it’s too soon to draw conclusions. more data over a longer period is needed before we can really say if e-cigs are a good or bad thing.

Emma L. November 19, 2023 - 12:35 pm

So Australia’s ban on nicotine e-cigs might not be the best approach, huh? Wonder how this will affect policy decisions…

Mike J. November 19, 2023 - 1:09 pm

wow, didn’t know e-cigs could actually help reduce smoking! this is a big deal, especially with all the debate around them lately.

Sarah K. November 19, 2023 - 4:00 pm

interesting study but i’m still skeptical… i mean, are e-cigs really safe?? we need more research on this.

John T. November 19, 2023 - 4:58 pm

gotta say, this is promising news. If e-cigs are helping people quit smoking, that’s a win in my book.


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