A new study conducted by The University of Southern California has revealed teens who regularly “vape” e-cigarettes are more likely to become heavier, more frequent tobacco users in the future. “Vaping” is the term for puffing on electronic cigarettes, which though devoid of tobacco, still contain highly addictive nicotine. As e-cigs have continued to rise in popularity, they have become much more sophisticated in delivering the nicotine, as well as more attractive to teens, including those as young as middle school. With numerous flavors to choose from and the feeling of self-control over how much nicotine is delivered at a time through manually programmed e-cigs, teens are continuing to flock to the habit, believing it to be safer than smoking cigarettes.
The study was carried out by surveying students in 10th grade at 10 different schools in Los Angeles where it was discovered teens who frequently vape are more than twice as likely to take up smoking on a weekly basis, as well as twice as likely to smoke more cigarettes on the days they engage in the behavior. Lead researcher Dr. Adam Leventhal, who is an associate professor of psychology and preventive medicine at USC’s Keck School of Medicine, said, “The more you vape, the more likely in the future you’re going to be smoking (cigarettes). You’re going to be smoking more frequently and you’re going to smoke more cigarettes per day on your smoking days.”
The questionnaire focused mainly on the teens’ frequency of e-cigarette and tobacco cigarette use, along with students’ vaping habits. A follow up on the study was conducted six months later which showed students who vaped were likely to increase their e-cig frequency and those who smoked cigarettes in addition to vaping were likely to increase their use of both, particularly those who had previously been casual smokers. Though these rates are alarming, it is important to note the researchers only found an association with vaping and smoking and not cause and effect.
Not surprisingly, e-cigarette industry insiders were not happy with the results of the study, criticizing the fact it defined frequent use as being three or more days per month. The president of the American Vaping Association, Gregory Conley, said in response, “Why? Because despite having a sample size of over 3,000, the authors were only able to identify a fraction of students who had progressed onto any cigarette smoking, let alone actual frequent or heavy smoking.”
Levanthal and his colleagues did, in fact, survey 3,100 students, more than one third of whom admitted to vaping. However, they did state a majority of students claimed they neither vaped or smoked cigarettes within the 30 days prior to the first survey, with 95 percent reporting they were non-smokers and 98.5 percent reporting they had never vaped.
While the study was conducted over a short period of time, Levanthal said it was a crucial period because it did reveal teens who begin smoking at this young age, whether electronic or tobacco cigarettes, were more likely to become chronic, heavier smokers throughout adulthood. He believes it is the result of having been trained to smoke by e-cigs and/or a need to increase their intake of nicotine through tobacco products for a greater fix.
Levanthal offered an explanation by saying, “Once they start smoking, it’s not a foreign sensation to them. They’ve experienced the act of drawing in these vapor clouds from e-cigarettes and then exhaling them. When they puff on a regular cigarette, it could be more pleasing in comparison to someone who puffs a cigarette for the first time and never had the experience of inhaling a substance before.”
The results of the study has left the American Lung Association more than a little rattled, as they believe young kids who become addicted to nicotine are more likely to take up the habit of tobacco smoking, thus exposing themselves to increased health risks and other problems later in life. Separate research recently released indicates those who smoke make less money than their non-smoking peers.
Dr. Levanthal and his team of researchers believe the results of the study call for stricter tobacco control measures, as well as better regulation of the sale of e-cigarettes to minors which, though illegal, has not posed many problems for teens looking to partake in the vape.
The full results of the study can be found here.