Teenagers using e-cigarettes are more likely to try smoking real cigarettes and are less likely to quit than kids who did not use the battery-powered devices, a new study found.
“The use of e-cigarettes does not discourage, and may encourage, conventional cigarette use among U.S. adolescents,” the study concluded.
Published online on Thursday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics, the study examined data collected from nearly 40,000 U.S. middle and high school students who completed the 2011 and 2012 National Youth Tobacco Survey.
The report also found that e-cigarette use among middle and high school students doubled between 2011 and 2012, from 3.1 percent to 6.5 percent.
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"E-cigarettes are likely to be gateway devices for nicotine addiction among youth, opening up a whole new market for tobacco," said lead author Lauren Dutra, a postdoctoral fellow at the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education.
But not everyone agrees with the conclusion drawn by the researchers. The study did not prove that teen e-cigarette smokers used tobacco after smoking e-cigarettes, because it examined two large data pools of teens in 2011 and 2012 rather than tracking the same people over two years.
Other experts said that just because e-cigarettes are being used by young people who smoke more and have a more difficult time kicking the habit does not mean that the devices are the root of the problem, according to The New York Times. Those experts say it is possible that young people who use e-cigarettes, which deliver nicotine through vapor instead of the smoke associated with traditional cigarettes, were heavier smokers to begin with, or would have become heavy smokers down the line, the Times reported.
“The data in this study do not allow many of the broad conclusions that it draws,” said Thomas J. Glynn, a researcher at the American Cancer Society, according to the Times.
Experts remain divided on whether e-cigarettes, which entered the market about a decade ago, are a gateway to smoking or a path for the nation's 45 million smokers to help quit.
A large federal survey published last year found that the overwhelming majority of young people who use e-cigarettes also smoke real tobacco. Another report concluded that while e-cigarette use among youths doubled from 2011 to 2012, real cigarette smoking for youths has continued to decline.