As various area community governments continue to wrangle with the idea of raising the age to buy tobacco products to 21, and the use of e-cigarettes by teens is rapidly on the rise, a Mayo Clinic expert believes vaping is creating more tobacco smokers.

Director of the Mayo Clinic Nicotine Dependence Center Dr. Taylor Hays said there has been a nearly a 50 percent increase in vaping in just four years and, “I think the data is pretty clear so far, in the limited studies we have, that it looks like it is a gateway for youth smoking.”

Dr. Hays said teens who have never smoked a cigarette are three to four times more likely to start smoking in the future if they use e-cigarettes and, “We know that kids who start vaping using e-cigarettes are more likely to use combustible tobacco cigarettes later.”

Dr. Hays said 6-to–7 million people from around the world die every year from smoking and, “If the current trends of smoking prevalence continue across the world, we’ll reach 1 billion smoking-related deaths in this century.”

He’s concerned that vaping appears to be reversing a long-term trend of declining teen tobacco use.