E-cigarettes were first introduced in 2004 in China. They’re battery-powered devices which let smokers inhale vapors that are infused with nicotine — producing much of the same effect as regular cigarettes, but without the second-hand smoke and with fewer health risks.
The lead author of the study, the University of Southern California’s Jessica Barrington-Trimis, said that “there’s a lot of concern” among members of the public health community about e-cigarettes — specifically that they might be attracting smokers who would never touch normal cigarettes.
Previous research has observed links between using electronic and traditional cigarettes, suggesting e-cigarettes were mostly being used by people who already smoked cigarettes.
The new study found that many teenagers who claimed to have used electronic cigarettes recently had never smoked a traditional cigarette.
The researchers collected data throughout 2014 from some 2,000 different Southern California teenagers. They found around 25 percent reported they’d ever used an e-cigarette, while around 20 percent said they’d ever smoked a traditional cigarette.
Around 10 percent had smoked an e-cigarette in the 30 days prior to being asked, significantly more than the 6 percent who’d reported recently using a traditional cigarette.
What affected the odds of smoking?
The researchers found that teenagers were more likely to use either e-cigarettes or more traditional cigarettes if either of the tobacco products was in use in their homes, in other words if members of their family used them. If their friends used either, or if their peers had a positive view of either product then this also increased the chances of their using e-cigs or traditional cigarettes.
About 14 percent of the teenagers in the study felt that e-cigarettes aren’t harmful, whereas just 1 percent felt cigarettes aren’t harmful. (For reviews of the best e cig see this page.)
Whether the teenagers felt the products were harmful significantly affected how likely they were to use either product. And, while using traditional and e-cigarettes was linked, around 41 percent of those who currently smoke e-cigarettes had never smoked a traditional cigarette.
Overall, the teenagers felt that friends and peers were more likely to view their use of e-cigarettes as acceptable, compared with traditional cigarettes.
Importantly, the researchers did not find any evidence suggesting that using e-cigarettes leads to using traditional cigarettes.
However, the researchers did suggest that the new technology might lead to “renormalizing” tobacco use.
The research findings “really suggest there’s a lot of kids who are using these e-cigarettes,” according to Barrington-Trimis.
Since they haven’t been well studied, it’s hard to say what health professionals should tell people about the products. However, nicotine in any form is known to affect developing brains, and the chemicals used to produce the different flavours are mostly unknown. Whether they have any negative health effects is still to be seen.
And despite the fact that research into health effects of e-cigarettes is still relatively young, parents should be aware if their teens are hanging out with other teenagers who use e-cigarettes, as their children may then start using.