name gateway theory hypothesis
class assumption
category conflation
motivation pretext
science aversion 🟥🟧🟧
used by TI, Bloomberg/WHO, CTFK et al.

The gateway hypothesis is easily debunked. By you know, just casually glancing at any usage statistic. Smoking goes down, whenever vaping goes up. Direct substitutes.

Claims to the contrary rest on misquoting studies and conflating individual effects for a generalizable thing. On the population level (and seemingly also teenagers), vaping is observably a gateway out of smoking. (Doesn't imply non-smokers should be encouraged). The general gateway theorizing largely stem from prior claims to such effect (also long debunked), or the visual misdiagnosis. Which is also why it's often just a fallback scare for "nicotine addiction" claims. Sometimes just a linguistic fallacy, with "could" and "might" doing a lot of heavy lifting for the argument. (It's a dependent premise, as e-cig harm exaggarations rarely hold up to scrutiny.)

individual gateway: smoking "upgrade"

Adolescents trying adult things is kinda their thing. And attention seekers can be predisposed to try vaping. On an individual level (→ which is what most "gateway" studies observe) they might also start smoking (later or beforehand). Not because of the claimed heroin-like effects, but because nicotine e-cigarettes are comparatively boring. Any migration to smoking is more plausibly explained by the lackluster intoxication and fairly delayed effects. (Except for the US with balooney non-regulations and excessive nicotine concentrations.)

Albeit the flavour degration for any substance use "upgrade" from e-cigs to tobacco poses a marginal deterrent still. (Even from mint vapes to menthol cigarettes). -- Btw, the simpleminded conjecture flavours cause vaping, and then vaping leads to smoking is just that: simpleminded.

population gateway: out of smoking

Individual-level gateway effects are rare, else we would see an according effect at the population level. But smoking rates are declining even for teenagers. More even, an accelerated decline in teen smoking was particular during the "teen vaping epidemic" in the US. (Albeit even the frequent-vaping uptake can't explain all of it. Can't draw many conclusions from it either way.)

population prevalence → "renormalization"

"Renormalization" is a common pessimism to insinuate rising smoking rates. Which of course, they aren't. It's largely based on the visual misdiagnosis that "vaping looks like smoking". Which is essentially a technophobic mix-up - that millenials aren't as prone to as policy makers.

Counter point:

As described in the paper, while there has been a considerable uptake of vaping by youth in the United States, smoking prevalence has decreased, suggesting no overall gateway effect. However, scientists warned that the recent phenomenon of the use of e-cigarettes by youth cannot dismiss the chance that if youth prevalence of e-cigarette use increases and is sustained over time, the result might be an increase in the prevalence of combustible tobacco use.

Albeit there hasn't yet been the proclaimed epidemic of teen or general vaping. But if there was, the argument might hold some clout. It's not likely that 20% of the population (= all current smokers) would switch at once to vaping. But hypothetically, if, then it could drag social acceptance along. If not smoking per se. (But I guess that explains the thought process behind "renormalization".)

flavour gateway: ATFs

See ATFs and flavour-fallacy on why "tobacco"-like aromas could be more problematic; by lowering the barrier to migration between e-cig and actual tobacco products.


  1. Association of initial e-cigarette and other tobacco product use with subsequent cigarette smoking in adolescents: a cross-sectional, matched control study
  2. Electronic cigarettes, nicotine use trends and use initiation ages among US adolescents from 1999 to 2018
  3. Does e-cigarette experimentation increase the transition to daily smoking among young ever-smokers in France?
  4. Examining the relationship of vaping to smoking initiation among US youth and young adults: a reality check
  5. Trends in electronic cigarette use and conventional smoking: quantifying a possible 'diversion' effect among US adolescents
  6. Association of genetic liability to smoking initiation with e-cigarette use in young adults: A cohort study
  7. High School Seniors Who Used E-Cigarettes May Have Otherwise Been Cigarette Smokers: Evidence From Monitoring the Future (United States, 2009–2018)
  8. Has increased youth e-cigarette use in the USA, between 2014 and 2020, changed conventional smoking behaviors, future intentions to smoke and perceived smoking harms?
  9. Is e-cigarette use in non-smoking young adults associated with later smoking? A systematic review and meta-analysis
  10. Are E-Cigarettes reviving the popularity of conventional smoking among Taiwanese male adolescents? (Taiwan 2004-2017)
  11. Does the gateway theory justify a ban on nicotine vaping in Australia?
  12. “Gateway hypothesis” and early drug use: Additional findings from tracking a population-based sample of adolescents to adulthood
  13. Debunking the "Gateway" Myth - Drug Policy Alliance
  14. Is Adolescent E-Cigarette Use Associated with Subsequent Smoking? A New Look
    Among adolescent never cigarette smokers, those who had ever used e-cigarettes at baseline, compared with never e-cigarette users, exhibited modest or non-significant increases in subsequent past 12-month or past 30-day smoking when adjusting for behavioral risk factors.