Can simply watching others vape lead to smoking?
New research from the University of Chicago Medical Centre finds that even though vape pens and e-cigarettes don’t look much like smoke-based cigarettes their use still causes the urge to smoke in young adult smokers.
While first wave models of e-cigarettes often looked very much like the real deal, even down to the glowing red tip upon inhale, the newer generation of vapes look more like ballpoint pens or tech gadgets than cigarettes, thus leading scientists to wonder about the effects on a smoker of seeing others using the newer vape pens.
In a study published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research, researchers recruited 108 volunteers aged 18 to 35 who smoked on average 8.7 cigarettes a day on six to seven days a week and tested their desire to smoke when put in the presence of someone using a vape pen. The results showed that just like the older e-cigarette models, the new vape pens cause an urge to smoke in smokers.
“We found that both light and heavy smokers were sensitive to this smoking cue,” said study director Andrea King to MedPage Today. “We thought this might not be the case with the second-generation vaping devices, because they don’t look like cigarettes. But the cue was the same.”
Over hour long sessions, individual volunteers interacted with a researcher who pretended to be a fellow study volunteer. Researchers either smoked a cigarette, used a vape pen or drink bottled water in the presence of the study volunteers, with the volunteers’ desire to smoke measured both before and after the interaction. The level and duration of desire were found to be the same whether the researcher smoked a cigarette or used a vape pen. No change in desire was recorded when a researcher drink bottled water.
“Vape pens look different but they share too many salient features of the act of smoking — including inhalation, exhalation and hand-to-mouth behaviours. This makes them a potent trigger, encouraging people to smoke,” says King in a release. “We’ve made real progress on reducing smoking [in the United States]. We’ve done a good job banning indoor smoking. We rarely see two-pack-a-day smokers like we used to. Yet seeing people smoke in public remains common.”
Many Canadian provinces already have legislation surrounding e-cigarettes, while this past November the federal government in Canada introduced legislation to regulate the sale and use e-cigarettes. The amendment to the Tobacco Act would see vaping products classified as a separate group of products and prohibit the sale and promotion of vaping products to minors. It would also establish a regulatory authority to oversee the placement of health warnings on vaping devices.
“We know that there is some evidence to suggest that the use of vaping products can be used as a harm-reduction tool for people who are current smokers,” Health Minister Jane Philpott told the CBC. “But at same time, they have [been] shown to be an enticement for young people to take up smoking and become addicted to nicotine.”
A Canadian study last year found that high school students who used e-cigarettes admitted to using them because they were “cool, fun or new.”