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Are E-cigarettes Leading More Kids to Smoke?

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Today, thanks to decades of educational efforts about the serious health consequences of inhaled tobacco, fewer young people than ever smoke cigarettes in the United States. So, it’s interesting that a growing of number of middle and high school kids are using e-cigarettes—electronic devices that vaporize flavored liquid that generally contains nicotine.

E-cigarettes come with their own health risks, including lung inflammation, asthma, and respiratory infections. But their supporters argue that “vaping,” as it’s often called, might provide an option that would help young people steer clear of traditional cigarettes and the attendant future risks of lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease, and other serious health conditions. Now, a new NIH-funded study finds that this is—pardon the pun—mostly a pipe dream.

Analyzing the self-reported smoking behaviors of thousands of schoolkids nationwide, researchers found no evidence that the availability of e-cigarettes has served to accelerate the decline in youth smoking. In fact, the researchers concluded the opposite: the popularity of e-cigarettes has led more kids—not fewer—to get hooked on nicotine, which meets all criteria for being an addictive substance.

The study, published recently in the journal Pediatrics, builds on publicly available data from the Centers for Disease Control’s National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) [1]. First administered in 1999, the survey was designed to capture the attitudes, behaviors, and exposure of kids in grades 6 through 12 to cigarettes and other tobacco products.

To capture youth smoking behaviors before and after e-cigarettes came on the scene in 2007, Lauren Dutra at RTI International, Berkeley, CA, and Stanton Glantz at the University of California, San Francisco, specifically analyzed survey data collected from 2004 to 2014.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.