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Study Shows Teenagers Who Try E-Cigarettes More Likely to Try Traditional Cigarettes

Aug 20, 2015

A new study finds that teenagers who try e-cigarettes are more likely to try traditional cigarettes.

While this is not proof that "vaping" leads to smoking, the authors say this is strong evidence that it might, NBCNews reports.

Adam Leventhal of the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California and his team surveyed more than 2,500 Los Angeles-area 9th graders who said they had never tried any tobacco products three times: when they started high school, six months later, and again at the start of 10th grade. More than 200 of the students said they had tried e-cigarettes, and six months later, 31 percent said they had also tried a traditional tobacco product such as a cigarette or a cigar in the past six months. Only 8 percent of the teens who had never tried vaping had tried a tobacco product, according to NBCNews. A year later, 25 percent of those who admitted to vaping said they had also smoked tobacco in the past six months, compared to 9 percent of non-vapers. "While we cannot conclude that e-cigarette use directly leads to smoking," Leventhal said, "this research raises concerns that recent increases in youth e-cigarette use could ultimately perpetuate the epidemic of smoking-related illness." The study was published online this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers said their results could simply show that some young people are more rebellious than others and are keen to try new things. Some teens may be more easily seduced by the nicotine delivered by both e-cigarettes and traditional tobacco products. Leventhal said teenagers who enjoy inhaling nicotine through e-cigarettes could be more likely to experiment with other forms of nicotine delivery, including smokeable tobacco, according to NBCNews.

Electronic cigarette use has recently increased sharply among middle and high school students, from 4.5 percent in 2013 to 13.4 percent in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Cigarette use over the same period fell from 12.7 to 9.2 percent, according to NBCNews.

Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said this is "troubling new evidence" that e-cigarettes are introducing children to nicotine use and possible addiction. He is concerned that e-cigarettes could serve as a gateway to use of other tobacco products.

Though teenagers’ tobacco use has fallen in recent years, "this study confirms that we should continue to vigilantly watch teen smoking patterns," said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which helped fund the study. E-cigarettes might not have the carcinogenic effects of regular cigarettes, but they do carry a risk of addiction, Volkow warned.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which now has the authority to regulate e-cigarettes, is expected to release new regulations for the devices this summer. Among the proposed regulations are warning labels on the devices and a ban on their sale to minors. Public health authorities are also concerned about the liquid nicotine used in e-cigarettes. The CDC reports an increase in calls to poison control centers and visits to emergency rooms for nicotine-related symptoms, and the liquid is dangerous, even fatal, for small children who ingest it.

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