Teen Vaping Leads to Heavy Smoking: Study

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Teenagers who have a regular vaping habit are more likely to start a heavy smoking habit, a new study found.

E-cigarettes were called into question as an effective cessation aid by the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Lead study author Adam Leventhal, director of the University of Southern California’s Emotion and Addiction Laboratory in Los Angeles, said e-cigarettes can lead to interest in heavy smoking.

Flickr Image Courtesy: Lindsay Fox, CC BY-SA 4.0
Flickr Image Courtesy: Lindsay Fox, CC BY-SA 4.0

“Our most recent study is the first to show that teenagers who vape not only experiment with cigarettes, but are also more likely to become regular smokers,” Leventhal said by email to Reuters. “It is also the first time teenage vaping has been linked to heavier smoking patterns involving use of multiple cigarettes per day.”

E-cigarettes have passed traditional cigarettes as the most popular tobacco product for young people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Three million middle and high school students used e-cigs last year.

Researchers examined 3,084 students at 10 Los Angeles high schools who participated in one survey during the fall semester of their tenth grade year and another during the spring. Vaping and smoking weren’t common, overall. Leventhal added that e-cigarettes could encourage teens to smoke.

“E-cigarettes do not prevent teens from advancing to smoking and may possibly do the opposite,” he said.

At the beginning of the study, 2,075 students, or 67 percent, said they had never tried e-cigarettes. Only 730 students, or 23 percent, said they vaped in the past, with 133 students who said they vaped on two or fewer days in the previous 30 days. Five percent, or 146 students, said they vaped three or more days in the past month.

By the end of the study period, one in five teens who reported a vaping habit at the beginning reported smoking traditional cigarettes at least three times a month. An additional 12 percent of routine vapers smoked at least one day a month. Less than one percent of students who didn’t try vaping reported smoking one day a month.

“One interpretation of these findings is that vaping provided a bridge to smoking – young people who may not have otherwise ended up smoking started with palatable, flavored e-cigarettes – and then after they became accustomed to e-cigarette use, many transitioned to traditional cigarette smoking,” said Brian Primack, a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh who wasn’t involved in the study.

The study’s authors said the limitations of the study included the brief follow-up period and its reliance on teens to accurately recall and report on their tobacco use.

While recent studies have linked e-cigarettes to helping smokers end their tobacco use and curb weight gain, introducing adolescents to e-cigarettes only encourages tobacco use.

Adolescents introduced to e-cigarettes could associate positively with tobacco use and willingly transition to traditional cigarettes, said Thomas Wills. Wills, a researcher at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center in Honolulu, wasn’t involved in the study.

“There is no evidence that vaping helps protect teenagers from cigarette smoking; in fact all the evidence is the other way ’round,” he said.