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Marcy 28, 2016

A study published by a Yale researcher in April 2015 examines the causal impact of access to electronic cigarettes, commonly called “e-cigarettes,” on teen smoking and questions whether state bans raise or reduce teen smoking rates. The study, which was conducted by Abigail S. Friedman at the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Yale School of Public Health, concludes, “[A]nalyses consistently find that electronic cigarette access reduces teen smoking,” rather than increases it, a claim often made by opponents of electronic cigarettes.


The study focused on claims suggesting e-cigarettes increase smoking rates, especially for teens. One of the most widely used criticisms made against e-cigarettes is they create a significant “gateway effect,” meaning many people who would otherwise never smoke tobacco do so because they were introduced to a supposedly similar product, such as electronic cigarettes. Another claim is e-cigarettes reduce the social stigma associated with traditional cigarettes, creating more users. A third attack on e-cigarettes is they lower the cost of addiction, which theoretically leads to higher tobacco smoking rates, a phenomenon called “harm reduction.”


Using state-level data on smoking rates and bans, as well as data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and the National Youth Tobacco Survey, the study found state bans on the sale of e-cigarettes to minors create “a statistically significant 1.0 percentage point increase in recent cigarette smoking rates among 12 to 17 year olds.” The study also found the greater the access to electronic cigarettes, the greater the drop in the state’s smoking rate. According to the study, a 1 percentage point increase in people using an e-cigarette at some point in their lives yields a 0.65 to 0.83 percentage point drop in smoking rates among teens aged 14 to 18.


E-cigarettes are a less-harmful alternative to traditional cigarettes; they have significantly fewer chemicals that cause smoking-related diseases, and research shows they reduce tobacco smoking rates. A study focused on nicotine products found of the maximum relative harm (MRH) ratings linked to smoking-related diseases and illnesses, cigarettes’ percentage was 100 percent MRH, while electronic cigarettes were rated with only 4 percent MRH. The study concludes products with nicotine and few other ingredients, such as e-cigarettes, “would bring significant benefits not just to users but also to non-smokers and society as a whole.”  


The study presents the first causal evidence of electronic cigarettes and how they impact teen smoking rates. Other variables, such as nicotine levels, pricing, and health care costs associated with traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes, could impact the findings once the data become available.


States should take sound science into consideration when deliberating the creation of regulations or taxes on e-cigarette products. States imposing bans, excessive regulations, or high taxes on e-cigarettes could be creating an environment in which consumers choose to use more-harmful traditional cigarettes, rather than less-harmful alternatives.

Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Link Majority of Vaping-Related Hospitalizations to THC: Welcome
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