For this new research, a questionnaire was distributed to 499 secondary school children in an English county. The children were aged from eleven to 16, with the average age being 14. The questionnaire was designed to measure both what the students believed about e-cigarettes, and their current use of them. The study itself was mostly sound, but the conclusions drawn from it – both by Glantz and, to some extent, the original researchers – are misguided.
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The beliefs section of the questionnaire found that adolescents were generally aware that vaping is less harmful than smoking. This is a promising development, as previous questionnaires have found that many people, including smokers, incorrectly believe it’s just as harmful. This obviously reduces the incentive to quit.
What’s less encouraging is that the team seem to have asked the participants if they were aware that e-cigs contain nicotine, then reported that many don’t. One very likely explanation is that the products used by many teenage vapers don’t contain nicotine. However this was reported as creating a risk of addiction that could lead to future tobacco use.
Even more worrying is that the researchers focus on the fact that 52% of teens who had tried a vapour product in the past 30 days had not previously smoked. This is higher than previous studies have found, but it isn’t necessarily unexpected – the teen smoking rate is at a record low, so smokers will make up a smaller percentage of any sample.
To back up his renewed claims, Professor Glantz has linked these two aspects – nicotine and non-smokers – to argue that kids who have never smoked will be lured into doing so by e-cigs. As with all his previous claims, however, he fails to answer one central question – if e-cigs are creating a new generation of smokers, why are teen smoking rates continuing to fall?