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E-Cigarette Use May Lead to Experimentation With Real Cigarettes

October 14, 2017

More than 2 million teens in America smoke e-cigarettes, and a review of existing research suggests this habit may make it more likely that teens progress to smoking regular cigarettes.

The review, which was published in JAMA Pediatrics, examined nine previous studies that involved 17,389 teenagers and people between the ages of 16 and 34. The review found strong evidence between trying e-cigarettes and later use of traditional cigarettes. It also found people who smoked e-cigarettes for 30 days were more likely to then smoke regular cigarettes for 30 days, as well. Researchers discovered that 21.5 percent of people who smoked e-cigarettes during a 30-day period subsequently smoked regular cigarettes. The numbers were a lot lower in people who never tried e-cigarettes in the first place: less than 5 percent of people who hadn’t smoked these cigarettes went on to try traditional cigarettes.

Overall, the study review found that teens who “vape,” as smoking e-cigarettes is called, are four times more likely than non e-cigarette users to smoke regular cigarettes.

There could be several reasons for this. Like regular cigarettes, e-cigarettes also contain nicotine, which is highly addictive. Though these products have a lower amount of nicotine than traditional cigarettes, even a small amount can lead to cravings. Also, e-cigarettes can be viewed as a social activity among teens, which increases their exposure to these products and normalizes the idea that smoking is okay or isn’t that harmful. 

But e-cigarettes come with several risks. Aside from nicotine, these products contain their own formulations of chemicals, making it more difficult to know what’s in them. Also, tobacco in any form can be harmful. Tobacco use is responsible for about seven million deaths every year (including direct use and secondhand smoke,) making it the leading cause of preventable death globally.

However, this recent study review isn’t conclusive, and the study really didn’t dig deep into the progression from experimenting with e-cigarettes to regular vaping and eventually regular cigarette use. It also didn’t evaluate long-term smoking. Also, other studies have contradicted the results of this review and found that it isn’t likely kids will move from smoking e-cigarettes to smoking real ones. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t some connection between e-cigarette use and experimenting with cigarettes later on.

What we do know is that even though e-cigarettes may not be as dangerous as regular cigarettes, most of these products do contain nicotine and other chemicals that aren’t the safest substances to put into your body. Even if we don’t yet clearly understand the percentages of e-cigarette smokers who go on to become longtime smokers, why take the risk in the first place?

If your teen is smoking e-cigarettes or just curious about them, as a parent it’s important to get educated about the potential dangers of these products. Talk to your pediatrician or primary care doctor and then have a frank, honest and informed conversation with your child about the risks. Intervening early could prevent your kids from adopting this habit — or from beginning another lifelong one that’s hard to kick.

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