It seems that everywhere you turn now, someone has an e-cigarette dangling from their mouth -- whether you're at the bar or on your lunch break at work. While manufacturers claim these electronic stogies help people kick the habit of smoking cigarettes, a UC San Francisco study released today finds just the opposite. In fact, the study says, e-cigarettes might actually be a gateway for youths who get hooked on real cigarettes.
Released by Stanton A. Glantz, PhD, UCSF professor of medicine and postdoctoral fellow Lauren M. Dutra, the study interpreted data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey conducted by 40,000 middle and high school students in 2011 and 2012.
The research found that during that time, youth use of e-cigarettes doubled from 3.1 to 6.5 percent. On top of that, researchers found that some kids were introduced to nicotine through e-cigarettes, which Dutra says opens up a "whole new market for tobacco."
"Despite claims that e-cigarettes are helping people quit smoking, we found that e-cigarettes were associated with more, not less, cigarette smoking among adolescents," Dutra said.
In fact, they found that "teenagers who used e-cigarettes and conventional cigarettes were much less likely to have abstained from cigarettes in the past 30 days, 6 months, or year."
E-Cigarettes are battery-powered devices that vaporize nicotine and other chemicals that are then inhaled. They also come in a variety of flavors, including chocolate and strawberry, as a way to lure youth. For that very reason, it's illegal for the tobacco industry to make flavored nicotine cigarettes.
Today's study counters widely believed theories that e-cigarettes won't help people kick the habit of smoking pure nicotine cigarettes. Researchers found that about 20 percent of middle school students and about 7 percent of high school students who had used e-cigarettes had never smoked regular cigarettes. That means some kids are introduced to nicotine for the first time through e-cigarettes, according to the study.
Youth who smoked both e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes continued smoking nicotine-based cigarettes for up to a year. They also tended to smoke more cigarettes than smokers who didn't use e-cigarettes, according to the study.
"It looks to me like the Wild West marketing of e-cigarettes is not only encouraging youth to smoke them, but also it is promoting regular cigarette smoking among youth," says Glantz.
The battery-powered aerosol devices that release nicotine are currently unregulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, although many city officials in San Francisco are championing for similar regulations as other nicotine products. E-cigarettes are causing a stir in the city. On Monday at City Hall, Supervisor Eric Mar introduced legislation that would treat E-cigarettes as traditional cigarettes. That means, If passed, the legislation would bar e-cigarettes from public places such as parks or inside of businesses.
Supporters hope that the proposal will curtail the use of e-cigarettes among adolescents.
The study will be published online on March 6 in JAMA Pediatrics.