Young people are just as likely to try electronic cigarettes - vaping - as cigarette smoking, according to a new report  in Tobacco Use in Canada: Patterns and Trends.

The paper finds that approximately 20 percent of youth between the ages of 15 and 19 have experimented with vaping, about the same number who try cigarettes. Obviously most of these youths are trying both and while cigarettes have clearly been shown to harm people, e-cigarettes -  which is a device to create a vapor by heating a chemical solution of propylene glycol, an organic compound common in food processing, flavoring agents and sometimes nicotine - haven't been linked to any issues. They don't contain tobacco or create the smoke that has been shown to be harmful about cigarettes.

Still, cultural pundits believe that e-cigarettes could be a gateway to smoking rather than a gateway away from it, which has been accepted when it comes to nicotine patches and nicotine gum. The reasons for the distinction are inconsistent but, at least in the U.S., the fines that tobacco companies have to pay can only be used to go after tobacco companies, so by claiming e-cigarettes are Big Tobacco marketing to children they have a way to expand their marketing dollars.

In Canada, where the survey was taken, they have become more popular as smoking cessation tools and when smoking is unacceptable because of the smoke bothering other people. Policymakers know people are going to do it, and are convinced it is healthier than cigarettes, so like with marijuana laws they are more interested in making sure the products are what they claim and that they are as safe as possible.

Though there is little data on the potential safety or harm, inference is often substituting for lack of evidence. Sugar is in Pepsi-Cola and sugar is in donuts, for example, so the contention is that because cigarettes and e-cigarettes contain nicotine, they must be both equally addictive, the same way an obese person might crave donuts or soda. Proponents instead insist that young people are going to try things but the bulk of users are substituting them for cigarettes, which is a positive.

"There is no question that e-cigarettes are a harmful consumer product because of all of the chemicals users inhale. However, because they don't produce smoke, they are significantly less harmful than smoking," said David Hammond, lead author on the report and a professor in the School of Public Health and Health Systems at Waterloo, who testified to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health in November. "At the moment, we have an uncontrolled experiment with e-cigarettes: millions of Canadians are trying products with unknown safety standards for a wide variety of reasons. There is an urgent need for even more evidence to guide policy in this fast-moving area," said Professor Hammond.

Currently, several provinces are developing policies for the sale and marketing of e-cigarettes both with and without nicotine. In March, Parliament released a report identifying 14 recommendations to regulate them.