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March 8, 2017

Does vaping put young people at risk for smoking cigarettes?

By: Youth and Social Issues Program

photo of cigarette and vaping deviceE-cigarette use has increased rapidly in the past 5 years, from less than 1% to 16% of US high school seniors by 2015.

Now researchers wonder if this increase puts young people at greater risk for smoking regular cigarettes. Several local and regional studies have found that vaping (using e-cigarettes) among youth is associated with higher odds of smoking cigarettes.

A recent study by SRC researchers Richard Miech, Megan Patrick, Patrick O'Malley, and Lloyd Johnston confirms this with US nationally representative data from Monitoring the Future. The study also examines whether vaping makes cigarettes seem less harmful or, conversely, helps young people quit smoking. Students in the study completed a baseline survey in 2014 and a follow-up survey a year later.

Youth who had never smoked a cigarette by 12th grade were 4 times more likely to have smoked a year later if they reported vaping in 12th grade. Among these 12th graders who vaped, 31% experimented with cigarettes in the following year, compared to 7% of their non-vaping peers. This difference remained after taking into account sex, race, and parental education. Even among the non-smokers who considered cigarette smoking to be very harmful, vaping in 12th grade strongly predicted experimenting with cigarette smoking in the following year.

Vaping also seemed to have an effect on seeing cigarettes as less dangerous. Among non-smokers, those who vaped were 4 times more likely than their non-vaping peers to move away from seeing cigarettes as very harmful. This finding suggests that vaping may desensitize teens to the very real health hazards of smoking.
Contrary to common idea that vaping is used to quit smoking, vaping did not make smoking teens any more likely to have quit smoking a year later.

This study and others suggest that vaping may well be a one-way bridge to cigarette smoking for youth. According to Miech, teens who vape should be considered at high risk for future smoking.

Miech, R., Patrick, M. E., O’Malley, P. M., & Johnston, L. D. (2017). E-cigarette use as a predictor of cigarette smoking: Results from a 1-year follow-up of a national sample of 12th grade students. Tobacco Control. doi: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2016-053291.