By Alessandra Malito, MarketWatch
E-cigarettes don’t stop teenagers from smoking traditional cigarettes — they encourage it, one study has found.
Vaping is linked to at least trying a traditional cigarette, especially among “low-risk” youths, according to researchers at Boston University, University of Louisville and University of Southern California, Los Angeles. E-cigarettes, which have the same shape as traditional cigarettes but are battery-operated and filled with nicotine, may bring smoking behavior back to the forefront of society and “erode decades of progress in reducing smoking among youths,” the study concluded.
The odds of ever smoking a cigarette were four times higher if the teenager used an e-cigarette as their first “tobacco product,” the study found.
The study was published Friday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a peer-reviewed American Medical Association publication.
Researchers studied more than 6,000 young people, who were an average age of 13 years old, and found a fifth of teenagers smoked traditional cigarettes if they had vaped, compared to about 4% who did so with no prior tobacco use. The odds of ever smoking a cigarette were four times higher if the teenager used an e-cigarette as their first “tobacco product,” the study found.
E-cigarettes do not contain tobacco, but are similar in shape and purpose to traditional tobacco products, like the traditional cigarette.
Teenagers’ use of nicotine has jumped dramatically in the last few years, mostly because of e-cigarettes. The percentage of high school seniors who reported nicotine use in the last 30 days rose from 23.7% in 2017 to 28.5% in 2018, according to the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research’s annual Monitoring the Future survey. The increase in nicotine use comes as traditional cigarettes and cigars, hookah and other tobacco products saw a slight decrease in use.
Not all young adults know they’re using nicotine when they vape. E-cigarettes use flavored cartridges, including vanilla and berries. Although almost all e-cigarette products sold at convenience stores and supermarkets have nicotine, approximately 60% of teens reported their devices were mostly flavoring, according to a report by Truth Initiative, an anti-tobacco nonprofit group.
E-cigarette company Juul, which has become very popular among adolescents, has said in the past it never intended for young adults to use its products. Still, teenagers are 16 times more likely to smoke Juul e-cigarettes than adults. The company, which has said it is committed to preventing youth from vaping, has quit social media and stopped selling flavors like mango, fruit and creme at brick-and-mortar stores.
“We cannot be more emphatic on this point: no young person or non-nicotine user should ever try JUUL,” said Ted Kwong, a Juul spokesman. “We cannot fulfill our mission to provide the world’s one billion adult smokers with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes if youth use continues unabated.”
The company’s revenue hit the $1 billion milestone last year, according to Altria /zigman2/quotes/208895754/composite MO +2.35% , the Richmond, Va.-based tobacco company that acquired a 35% stake in Juul in December (and manufactures Marlboro cigarettes).
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent more than 1,300 warning letters and fines to retailers across the country that sold e-cigarette products to minors in September. In a speech at the agency’s headquarters, Scott Gottlieb, FDA commissioner, said the FDA would continue to roll out legislation to prevent underage tobacco use. A month later, the agency met with e-cigarette executives to share proposals that would hopefully cut youth use of e-cigarettes.
But state and federal government need to do more, critics say. Both forms of government have failed to incite meaningful regulation to stop the rise of underage tobacco use, the American Lung Association said earlier this week.
In its “State of Tobacco Control” report , the American Lung Association said 43 states and Washington, D.C. received “F” grades for funding state tobacco prevention programs and 40 states received an “F” for their minimum age of sale for tobacco products.