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Study: Teens' E-Cigarette Use Promotes Heavy Tobacco Use

  • Jessica Berman

FILE - A woman smokes an e-cigarette, an electronic substitute in the form of a rod, slightly longer than a normal cigarette.

FILE - A woman smokes an e-cigarette, an electronic substitute in the form of a rod, slightly longer than a normal cigarette.

According to the first-ever study on the use of electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, by young people, researchers have found that the devices, marketed as an alternative to real cigarettes, appear to fuel heavy smoking among youth.
E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that look like cigarettes and deliver a smokeless aerosol of nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals. They are promoted as a safer alternative to cigarettes and an aid to stopping smoking.

However, a new study looking at the use of electronic cigarettes in nearly 76,000 Korean teenagers found they are less likely to have succeeded in kicking the habit and that electronic cigarettes made them heavier smokers.

Stan Glantz directs the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco. He is also the senior author of the study.

Glantz said that while there is evidence electronic cigarettes help a small percentage of adult smokers stop, the same is not true for adolescents, who he says are being bombarded with appealing ads.

“They are being marketed with flavors, with images of sex and independence, and also marketed with the claim they will help you quit smoking and, in fact, the kids who are trying to quit smoking were more likely to be using e-cigarettes. But, as I said before, [they are] much less likely to actually quit,” said Glantz.

Glantz said that the nicotine in e-cigarettes makes them addictive even though users do not inhale as many toxic chemicals. He also claimed that tobacco companies, which manufacture the devices, take advantage of the lack of regulation of e-cigarettes to try to hook new smokers.

“We have the kind of Wild West marketing that we did in the bad old days for cigarettes. And the kids are clearly responding to that, and youth use of e-cigarettes in Korea is going up very rapidly just as it did here in the United States,” said Glantz.

U.S. regulators report the number of middle and high school students who use e-cigarettes doubled from 2011 to 2012, to a total of 1.7 million students.

Regulations to ban the smokeless devices are being proposed in Chicago, which may become the first U.S. city to restrict the sale of electronic cigarettes.

The article on e-cigarette use among Korean teens is published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.