Is Vaping a Gateway Drug?

by Lexi Matthews ‘18

Despite the claim of their creation being to deter further cigarette use by weaning smokers off of nicotine dependency, fears have grown that e-cigarettes are actually contributing to a growing drug culture among teens.

The concept of a substance being a gateway drug was first popularized in the 1980s; the theory suggested that those who smoked marijuana were much more likely to try harder drugs in the future. While the scientific community is split on whether these so-called gateway drugs lead to higher schedule drugs through causation or correlation, the trend between vaping and other drug use is undeniable. A 2015 report by the Journal of American Medical Association posited that 67 percent of vape users age 16-26 who had never previously smoked move on to smoke cigarettes. A similar survey conducted by The Warrior found that four of five vape users also smoke other substances.

The Warrior’s survey, however, leans more towards the theory of correlation than causation. A majority of those surveyed said that they had already been exposed to cigarettes and/or marijuana long before they began to vape. “I’ve smoked [marijuana] for over a year now. I started vaping this year because my friends just did it and it seemed like innocent fun. If anything, I’d say [marijuana] was the gateway for me. Since I already have screwed with my lungs by doing that, I just figured, why not?” said an anonymous senior. Addiction experts often propose the idea that those those who consume illicit substances already have an inherent risk-taking mindset that leads them to try new drugs rather than the initial drug itself.

Handfuls of vape users, however, have never smoked anything except e-cigarettes. Three out of five underclassmen surveyed by The Warrior reported vape being the first and only drug they had ever consumed. This can largely be attributed to the ease and discretion that comes with vapes, as the devices produce smoke that leaves behind no trace seconds after use. Vapes are also much easier to purchase than ‘real’ drugs, as materials can be bought online or at gas stations often without requiring proof of age.