Genetic Vulnerability for Smoking and Cannabis Use: Associations With E-Cigarette and Water Pipe Use

Nicotine Tob Res. 2019 May 21;21(6):723-730. doi: 10.1093/ntr/nty150.


Introduction: Cigarette smoking and cannabis use are heritable traits and share, at least in part, a common genetic substrate. In recent years, the prevalence of alternative methods of nicotine intakes, such as electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) and water pipe use, has risen substantially. We tested whether the genetic vulnerability underlying cigarettes smoking and cannabis use explained variability in e-cigarette and water pipe use phenotypes, as these vaping methods are alternatives for smoking tobacco cigarettes and joints.

Methods: On the basis of the summary statistics of the International Cannabis Consortium and the Tobacco and Genetics Consortium, we generated polygenic risk scores (PRSs) for smoking and cannabis use traits, and used these to predict e-cigarette and water pipe use phenotypes in a sample of 5025 individuals from the Netherlands Twin Register.

Results: PRSs for cigarettes per day were positively associated with lifetime e-cigarette use and early initiation of water pipe use, but only in ex-smokers (odds ratio = 1.43, R2 = 1.56%, p = .011) and never cigarette smokers (odds ratio = 1.35, R2 = 1.60%, p = .013) respectively.

Conclusions: Most associations of PRSs for cigarette smoking and cannabis use with e-cigarette and water pipe use were not significant, potentially due to a lack of power. The significant associations between genetic liability to smoking heaviness with e-cigarette and water pipe phenotypes are in line with studies indicating a common genetic background for substance-use phenotypes. These associations emerged only in nonsmokers, and future studies should investigate the nature of this observation.

Implications: Our study showed that genetic vulnerability to smoking heaviness is associated with lifetime e-cigarette use and age at initiation of water pipe use. This finding has implications for the current debate on whether alternative smoking methods, such as usage of vaping devices, predispose to smoking initiation and related behaviors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cannabis / adverse effects
  • Cannabis / genetics*
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Genetic Markers*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Smoking / genetics*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / etiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / genetics*
  • Water Pipe Smoking / genetics*
  • Young Adult


  • Genetic Markers