Vaping Is Attracting More Teens to Tobacco Use

Vaping is touted by some as a weapon in the war against smoking, but the unfortunate truth is that its effectiveness in helping motivated smokers reduce or stop smoking conventional cigarettes is open to question.  More importantly, though, vaping is attracting teens who otherwise might not be smoking or using tobacco at all. A study published in the CDC’s online journal Preventing Chronic Disease found that, among teens in North Carolina surveyed in 2013, four and a half times as many were using e-cigarettes as were using them in 2011: 7.7% versus 1.7% two years earlier. Among non-smoking teens, a fifth planned to try vaping within the year. These findings reflect a growing trend in increased teen use of e-cigarettes nationwide.

Said the study authors, “The rapid increase in e-cigarette use among North Carolina cigarette ‘never smokers’ is concerning.”

Teens who used e-cigarettes and also smoked conventional cigarettes did not generally characterize vaping as a way to try to quit smoking. Their responses indicated that they typically use vaping simply as a second way to use tobacco.

Between teens who only smoked regular cigarettes and those who used vaping either alone or as a second tobacco delivery system, e-cigarette users were less likely to have ever abstained from smoking for 6 months or more, or to have used any other kind of smoking cessation aid. This finding suggests that there’s a negative correlation between e-cigarette use and efforts to quit smoking or even the intention to do so.

The researchers noted that these findings support the advisability of federal regulation of e-cigarettes as tobacco products (announced by the FDA in May). Regulations just went into effect August 8 that ban e-cigarettes sales to minors and greatly restrict the marketing and advertising of e-cigarettes.

Amy Lukowski, PsyD, of National Jewish Health, Denver, Colorado, points out that the long-term impact of nicotine addiction on a developing brain is not well understood, but “We do know that the sooner you introduce nicotine the more it impacts the brain.” It is very possible that adolescents may be more vulnerable to nicotine dependency than adults.

Added to these concerns is the simple fact that teens are curious risk-takers who tend to follow others’ behavior in order to fit in. Says Lukowski, “The (e-cigarette) industry exploits that and continues to target teens.”

Watch for next week’s post with more on the FDA’s new regulations regarding e-cigarettes.