Are E-Cigarettes A Gateway To Regular Smokes?

By May Wilkerson 01/27/16

More evidence that electronic cigarettes don't live up to their promise.

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Electronic cigarettes could lead to smoking regular cigarettes, according to a new study.

A new survey of high schoolers finds that teens who had used electronic cigarettes, a.k.a. “vaping,” were much more likely to try regular cigarettes in the following year.

Among nonsmoking students who had tried vaping at the time of the survey, 20% said they had smoked their first tobacco cigarette when they took the survey a year later. But only 6% of students who had never vaped in the first place had tried cigarettes a year later. “E-cigarettes had a risk-promoting effect for onset of smoking,” said researchers.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, involved more than 2,000 high school students from around Oahu, between 2013 and 2014. To encourage honesty, answers were taken anonymously.

Researchers found that 31% of the students had tried an e-cigarette at the time of the initial survey. Most were occasional users: 21% said they had vaped a maximum of four times in their lives, 2% said they vaped every day, and 3% said they vaped a few times a week. But regardless of how much or how often they had used e-cigs, this group was far more likely to have smoked a regular cigarette a year later than the students who had never vaped at all.

The researchers also found that older students were more likely to vape, as were white students, compared to native Hawaiians. As students got older, their chances of vaping increased: 10% of those who had not used e-cigarettes by 2013 went on to try them by 2014. This risk was higher among students who believed e-cigs are less dangerous than regular cigarettes.

Proponents of e-cigs have argued that the devices help people wean off tobacco cigarettes, which are linked to far greater health risks. But researchers said they did not find any evidence to suggest that vaping helped teen smokers quit.

The results of the study “provide support for the hypothesis that e-cigarette use may promote initiation of smoking,” the authors wrote. “These findings should be considered for policy discussions about the availability of e-cigarettes to adolescents.”

Last year, Hawaii became the first state in the country to raise its smoking age to 21. As of 2016, that age limit now applies to e-cigs as well.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/ @alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.

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