E-Cigs: A Gateway to Teen Smoking?

Electronic cigarette use may encourage cigarette use among adolescents

(RxWiki News) Are electronic cigarettes a gateway to the real thing? New evidence suggests that, for teens, they could be.

A new study found that teens who used e-cigarettes were more likely to try conventional cigarettes one year later than teens who didn’t. E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat a nicotine solution that the user inhales. Nicotine is the primary addictive chemical in tobacco.

For this study, researchers quizzed 2,338 teens from seven high schools in Hawaii in 2013, and then one year later in 2014, about their e-cigarette and tobacco use. In 2013, these teens were 9th or 10th graders with an average age of 15.

During both quizzes, the teens were asked about the frequency of their e-cigarette use, which ranged from never to daily. They were also asked about certain factors known to influence smoking uptake, such as home environment, parental education and degree of rebelliousness.

Researchers found that teens who used e-cigarettes in 2013 were almost three times as likely to have started smoking cigarettes one year later than teens who didn't — regardless of other factors.

The number of teens who tried vaping rose from 31 percent in 2013 to 38 percent in 2014. Of those teens, 15 percent tried conventional cigarettes in 2013. In 2014, 21 percent did the same.

Among nonusers of both e-cigarettes and cigarettes in 2013, 10 percent tried vaping and 2 percent tried cigarettes by 2014.

"This suggests that e-cigarette use among adolescents is not without behavioral costs," wrote the study authors. "These findings should be considered for policy discussions about the availability of e-cigarettes to adolescents."

As an observational study, no firm conclusions can be drawn from these findings. This study adds to a growing number of concerns about the effects e-cigarettes may have on teen smoking behavior, however. It also suggests that it may be beneficial to restrict teens’ access to vaping products.

This study was published online Jan. 25 in the journal Tobacco Control.

The National Cancer Institute funded this research. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Review Date: 
January 25, 2016