The study raises doubts over user claims that e-cigarettes, which emit a vapor that is inhaled when a battery heats a nicotine solution, can be used to help curb the rate of tobacco use among young people.
“In relation to the idea of smoking cessation, it didn't look like e-cigarettes were discouraging [tobacco] cigarette smoking in adolescents,” said study co-author Lauren Dutra, a post-doctoral scholar at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine. “What we saw was that the adolescents who had used e-cigarettes were more likely to be cigarette smokers, and they are more likely to transition from experimenting with cigarettes to actually becoming regular smokers.”
The findings did not definitively say that e-cigarette use led young people to start smoking, according to Dutra, but suggested rather that a causal link is possible.
Youth e-cigarette use has increased steadily in recent years. A report released last September by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the number of middle-school and high-school students who reported using an electronic cigarette had doubled between 2011 and 2012, from 3.3% to 6.8%.
Sales of the devices have exploded in recent years, thanks in part to a major TV and radio advertising campaigns, reminiscent of tobacco advertising during the 1960s.
“This study's findings are cause for concern and provide another reason why the FDA must act quickly to regulate e-cigarettes and stop their marketing and sale to kids,” said Vince Willmore, vice president of communications for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “E-cigarettes are being irresponsibly marketed using the same slick tactics long used to market regular cigarettes to kids, including celebrity endorsements, glossy magazine ads that portray e-cigarettes as fun and sexy, race car sponsorships and sweet flavors.”
Follow Steven Ross Johnson on Twitter: @MHsjohnson