Vaping May Lead to Tobacco Addiction in Teens, Study Says

By Britni de la Cretaz 11/14/16

The rise of vaping threatens to stop the steady decline of teen tobacco use. 

Vaping May Lead to Tobacco Addiction in Teens, Study Says

The jury is still out on whether or not e-cigarettes are a health hazard, but there is one danger that they do produce: they could encourage teenagers to become cigarette smokers.

"Forty percent of 10th graders in the United States have vaped," Dr. Adam Leventhal of USC's Health, Emotion, & Addiction Lab told ABC7. Three thousand 10th graders were surveyed in Los Angeles, and it was found that 20% of the students who had vaped regularly went on to become frequent cigarette smokers. In contrast, only 0.7% of students who had never vaped became smokers.

This is concerning because teen tobacco use has been steadily on the decline, but e-cigs could change that. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) found that nearly 90% of adult smokers began smoking before age 18, so curbing teen tobacco use is important. "Once you start cigarettes, they're pretty addictive," Leventhal told ABC7.

And over the last several decades, the push to decrease teen smoking has been working: cigarette-smoking rates among high school students have dropped to the lowest levels in decades, according to 2013 data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But with the use of e-cigarettes having almost quadrupled in the last few years, experts worry that rates of smoking may soon follow suit. 

Something else that can impact whether or not teens become smokers? Social media. A 2011 study from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that teens who spent time on social media were five times likelier to have used tobacco than those who didn’t.

The HHS also found that risk factors for adolescent smoking included being male, being white, and experiencing highly stressful events.

"Most experts are going to agree that most teens shouldn't use e-cigarettes, they shouldn't use nicotine products," Leventhal said. "Nikk" from VapeMastaz in Pasadena, California also told ABC7 that he “supports keeping e-cigs out of the hands of minors.”

One thing that has been found to decrease teen tobacco use is raising the age to buy the products to 21. After the town of Needham, Massachuestts raised the age to buy tobacco products, a study found that rates of adolescent smoking there were much lower than in other areas of the country where the age to buy tobacco products is 18.

It remains to be seen how vaping will come to affect smoking rates for the next generation, but everyone agrees that much more research is needed to find out.

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.