Are E-Cigarettes a Gateway to Real Tobacco for Teens?

By Zachary Siegel 07/28/15

Researchers at the University of Southern California are studying e-cigarette use in teens.

electronic cigarettes

A new study published in the journal Pediatrics demonstrated that teens who use electronic cigarettes are more likely to also smoke real tobacco.

Out of 2,100 high school students in California, 25%, or just over 500, of them had “vaped” at least once. Ten percent of those who had vaped were “current” e-cigarette smokers. “Current” was defined as having vaped in the last month.

But this next result is the one that has been gaining notoriety; those teens who are current e-cigarette users were much more likely than their peers to smoke real tobacco.

Senior researcher on the study, Jessica Barrington-Trimis, said this in no way proves e-cigarettes are a “gateway” to tobacco use. However, she said that it is possible that laid-back attitudes toward e-cigarettes may be encouraging a more tobacco-friendly atmosphere.

Grassroots organizations are indeed wary that e-cigarette advertising is pulling out all the stops Big Tobacco once did. For instance, e-cigarette companies make use of celebrity sex appeal in commercials as well as concocting flavors that young people may find appealing.

E-cigarette flavors like “Banana Cream” or “Baja Burst,” or “French Vanilla” may be construed as appealing to a kid's sweet tooth.

Up until 2009, Big Tobacco companies were manufacturing fruit and candy flavored cigarettes until the FDA banned them for being “a gateway for many children and young adults to become regular smokers.”

David Abrams, executive director of the Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies, said that though the consequences of experimenting with e-cigarettes remains unclear, “The FDA should hurry and put some controls over the advertising and distribution of [e-cigarettes],” he said.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.