‘Gateway’ Role of E-Cigs Examined

Devices may cause low-risk youth to adopt nicotine habits, study says

SAN FRANCISCO -- Electronic-cigarette devices may attract a new population of adolescents who might not have smoked tobacco products otherwise, according to a new University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) study.

UCSF researchers who were part of the study—the first national evaluation of electronic cigarettes and the product’s effect on the nation’s youth—did not find evidence that e-cigarettes led to a decline in youth smoking, as many who touted potential health benefits have said. Instead, combined e-cigarette and cigarette use among adolescents in 2014 was higher than total cigarette use in 2009, reported News-Medical.net, citing the study.  

The UCSF authors concluded that the low-risk youth in the study, who went on to smoke regular cigarettes, may not have used nicotine at all if e-cigarettes did not exist.

The study will be published in the February issue of the Journal of Pediatrics.

“We didn’t find any evidence that e-cigarettes are causing youth smoking to decline,” said lead author Lauren Dutra, a former postdoctoral fellow at the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education and current social scientist for RTI International, a not-for-profit research organization based in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

“While some of the kids using e-cigarettes were also smoking cigarettes, we found that kids who were at low risk of starting nicotine with cigarettes were using e-cigarettes,” Dutra said. “Recent declines in youth smoking are likely due to tobacco-control efforts, not to e-cigarettes.”

The national analysis builds on several previous studies that have reported that adolescents who start with e-cigarettes are more likely to subsequently smoke traditional cigarettes.

In August 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration restricted e-cigarette purchases to adults ages 18 and older (California set the age to 21). Starting in August 2018, the FDA also will require a warning label regarding the addictive nature of nicotine. However, the FDA’s ruling does not regulate advertising or flavors, and e-cigarettes are often sold in flavors.

In the new UCSF study, the researchers examined survey data from more than 140,000 middle and high school students who completed the Center for Disease Control’s National Youth Tobacco Survey between 2004 and 2014.


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