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Seeing someone use an e-cigarette encourages smokers to light up, a study has warned.
Even though they don’t look like a normal cigarette, ‘vape pens’ can trigger the same cravings as real tobacco products.
A study by Chicago University found the devices were a ‘potent trigger’ to encourage young adults to smoke as they mimic the same behaviour – inhaling and exhaling – and use the same hand and mouth movements as regular cigarettes.
The findings cast doubt on how well the smoking ban has worked to put cigarettes ‘out of sight’, as vaping becomes common.
Although the 18 to 35-year-olds in the study who were influenced by e-cigarettes already smoked, the findings also raise concerns about a ‘gateway effect’ encouraging people who smoke to vape as well.
The study, published in journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research, used 108 volunteers ranging from light smokers to those who went through a pack of cigarettes a day.
When they saw someone use a vape pen, they were more likely to want a cigarette or reach for one.
Vape pens look more like pens than cigarettes but still deliver a nicotine hit and puff out vapour.
Research leader Dr Andrea King, director of the clinical addictions research laboratory at Chicago University, said: ‘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. Their impact is roughly equal to watching someone light up a cigarette. They made the young adults in our study want to smoke.’
The decade-old UK ban on smoking in public places was designed to make the habit seem less normal by keeping smokers out of offices and pubs.
However, despite calls from the World Health Organisation for countries to consider a similar ban on e-cigarettes, they are becoming increasingly popular.
To measure their effect on susceptible young adults, the researchers planted a pretend volunteer among their study group who smoked either a conventional cigarette or a vape pen.
Both cues increased the desire among research subjects for a cigarette or an e-cigarette. Then 26 of the group were tested 20 minutes later by placing a cigarette on a tray, along with a lighter and an ash tray.
Told they would receive a cash reward of 20 cents for every five minutes they resisted, those who had seen the person smoking a cigarette or vape pen managed to hold out for only 20 minutes.
Dr King said: ‘Our study focused on a classical Pavlovian trigger, as seeing someone smoke is a known potent cue that can induce others to smoke. We did not expect that the vape pen would be as potent a cue as the regular cigarette, but it was as potent.’
2017.01.13 / 10:59