A new University of Southern California MPH Program study debunks the popular belief that electronic cigarettes are merely a substitute for cigarettes among teens. Instead, the study suggests that some teens who never would have smoked cigarettes are now vaping.
E-cigarettes, which entered the U.S. market in 2007, vaporize liquids that may or may not contain nicotine. In 2011, about 1.5 percent of high schoolers had vaped in the past 30 days, according to the National Youth Tobacco Survey. Four years later, that number skyrocketed to 16 percent.
A USC study of 5,490 high school juniors and seniors shows tobacco use among teens in Southern California is on the rise.
In 2014, about 14 percent of 12th graders said they had either smoked or vaped in the previous month — nearly a 60 percent increase in the past decade.
A decade earlier — before e-cigarettes were sold in the United States — 9 percent of surveyed teens in this age group reported that they had smoked, said Jessica Barrington-Trimis, lead author and a postdoctoral scholar research associate in the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
“If teenagers who vape are using e-cigarettes instead of cigarettes, we would have expected to see the decline in smoking rates continue through 2014,” Barrington-Trimis said. “But what we’ve seen is a downward trend in cigarette use from 1995 to 2004 but no further decrease in cigarette smoking rates in 2014. The combined e-cigarette and cigarette use in 2014 far exceeded what we would have expected if teens were simply substituting cigarettes with e-cigarettes. The data suggest that at least some of the teens who are vaping would not have smoked cigarettes.”
The study, published on July 11 in the journal Pediatrics, followed five groups of high schoolers who graduated in 1995, 1998, 2001, 2004 and 2014. Researchers collected the history of tobacco use in an individually administered questionnaire.
Cigarette use is the largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States. Cigarette smoking kills more than 480,000 Americans annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“An important question in the rapidly evolving landscape of youth tobacco product use is whether e-cigarettes are replacing cigarettes,” said Rob McConnell, the study’s senior author and professor of preventive medicine at Keck Medicine of USC. “However, use of e-cigarettes by youth who would not otherwise have smoked results in exposure to the hazards of inhaled vaporized liquids and flavorings in e-cigarettes and may result in exposure to nicotine that can damage the adolescent brain.”
USC is one of 14 U.S. research institutions that received National Institutes of Health funding to establish the Tobacco Centers of Regulatory Science.
USC researchers have found: