Researchers have suggested that e-cigarettes, promoted as a way to quit regular cigarettes, could actually be a new route to conventional smoking and nicotine addiction for teens.
In the first analysis of the relationship between e-cigarette use and smoking among adolescents in the United States, University of California, San Francisco researchers found that adolescents who used the devices were more likely to smoke cigarettes and less likely to quit smoking.
The study of nearly 40,000 youth around the country also found that e-cigarette use among middle and high school students doubled between 2011 and 2012, from 3.1 percent to 6.5 percent.
Lead author Lauren Dutra, a postdoctoral fellow at the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, said that despite claims that e-cigarettes are helping people quit smoking, we found that e-cigarettes were linked with more, not less, cigarette smoking among adolescents.
She said that e-cigarettes are likely to be gateway devices for nicotine addiction among youth, opening up a whole new market for tobacco.
In the new UCSF study, the researchers examined survey data from middle and high school students who completed the National Youth Tobacco Survey in 2011 and 2012.
The authors found that the devices were associated with higher odds of progression from experimenting with cigarettes to becoming established cigarette smokers. Additionally, adolescents who smoked both conventional cigarettes and e-cigarettes smoked more cigarettes per day than non-e-cigarette users.
In combination, the two studies suggest that "e-cigarettes may contribute to nicotine addiction and are unlikely to discourage conventional cigarette smoking among youths," said the scientists.
The study has been published online in JAMA Pediatrics.