Do E-Cig Laws Encourage Teen Smoking?

Higher use of traditional cigarettes may be ‘unintended consequence’

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Though laws regulating electronic cigarettes may cut teenage use of those products, they may also contribute to a growth in use of traditional combustible cigarettes, a recent study concluded.

The study, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, Mass., said most states have a minimum age for e-cigarette sales of 18, with two states and 225 municipalities requiring buyers to be 21 years old for all tobacco products, according to San Francisco-based MarketWatch.

States began instituting age-restrictive e-cigarette laws in 2010. Since that time, the use of traditional combustible cigarettes by youth doubled from 0.7% to 1.4%, according to the study from economists in three different institutions. Dhaval Dave, an economics professor at Bentley University, Waltham, Mass.; Bo Feng, a doctoral student at Georgia State University, Atlanta; and Michael Pesko, a health economist and assistant professor of healthcare policy and research at Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, co-authored the report, The Effects of E-Cigarette Minimum Legal Sale Age Laws on Youth Substance Use.

By making it harder for people younger than 18 to buy e-cigarettes, which in the study are considered vaping products and have less nicotine, the researchers argue teenagers are instead turning to traditional cigarettes, which are easier to obtain and less costly, Pesko said in the MarketWatch report.

Because vaping is more popular among youth than older adults, teenagers might be able to get traditional cigarettes from other outlets, such as their parents, whether voluntarily or by theft, he said in the report. E-cigarettes also have become more expensive on the underground market because of the hassle of getting them, even though they’re less expensive when sold in stores compared with traditional cigarettes.

“When you make it harder to buy e-cigarettes, the unintended consequence of this action is continuing regular cigarette consumption,” Pesko said. The laws didn’t, however, affect marijuana use or alcohol consumption, he said.

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