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Which Teens Are Most Likely to Smoke E-Cigarettes?

E-cigarettes, also known as electronic cigarettes or electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), are modern products that use a battery-powered system to carry nicotine vapor to the lungs of users. Proponents of these products say that they represent a safer alternative to the traditional use of nicotine-containing tobacco. However, critics have a range of objections to this portrayal. In a study published in January 2014 in the journal Addictive Behaviors, researchers from several U.S. institutions tracked the trend of e-cigarette use among teenagers attending U.S. high schools.

E-Cigarette Basics

Some e-cigarettes look like tobacco cigarettes, while others resemble other tobacco products — such as cigars or pipes — or don’t look like tobacco products at all. The basic components of all of these devices are a supply of liquid nicotine, a system that turns the nicotine into vapor when activated and a battery that supplies the power for the vaporization process. E-cigarette manufacturers list nicotine content of 6 mg to 24 mg for their products. However, according to a 2013 report from the United Nations’ World Health Organization, some e-cigarettes contain more than 100 mg of nicotine. In addition to nicotine, most electronic cigarettes contain significant amounts of propylene glycol, a known lung irritant that’s also the primary ingredient in antifreeze. In addition, some products contain substances known to cause cancer in certain non-human animal species.

E-cigarettes hit the U.S. market in 2007. They are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration unless their packaging or promotional materials specifically advertise them as nicotine replacement products or some other form of therapeutic treatment. A study published in 2012 in the American Journal of Public Health indicates that roughly 3.4 percent of all U.S. adults use electronic cigarettes. The usage rate among adults who also smoke tobacco cigarettes is about 11.4 percent, while about 2 percent of ex-tobacco cigarette smokers use e-cigarettes.

Usefulness and Safety

Some e-cigarette supporters view these products as beneficial to people trying to cut down on their nicotine intake or quit smoking altogether. However, the World Health Organization report maintains that there is no scientific research available to confirm this claim. Critics specifically note that there is no developed procedure for using electronic cigarettes as smoking cessation or nicotine replacement devices. Supporters of e-cigarettes also emphasize that these devices do not contain the broad range of harmful chemicals found in tobacco cigarettes and also do not produce hazardous smoke when used. However, the devices do contain some harmful chemicals. They may also trigger cases of nicotine poisoning, contribute to the continuation of nicotine addiction in current cigarette smokers and/or contribute to the onset of nicotine addiction in people who have never smoked cigarettes.

Use By Teenagers

Some electronic cigarette manufacturers either specifically or inadvertently target their products at teenagers and young adults by introducing flavorings — such as chocolate, mint or fruit — that appeal to non-smokers. In the study published in Addictive Behaviors, researchers from Yale University, the Medical University of South Carolina and the Roswell Park Cancer Institute used a series of surveys to track the rate of e-cigarette use among 1,345 teenagers enrolled at two representative U.S. high schools. This tracking took place between February 2010 and June 2011. The researchers looked at the number of teens who used an e-cigarette in any 30-day period throughout this timeframe. They also collected information on the participants’ current involvement in cigarette use, as well as their gender, grade and ethnic background.

At the beginning of the study period, 0.9 percent of the participating students used an e-cigarette at least once a month. By the close of the study period, this rate of use had more than doubled to 2.3 percent. The researchers concluded that the single greatest determining factor in any student’s chances of using e-cigarettes was current use of tobacco cigarettes. They also concluded that current cigarette smokers made up the largest group of teens using e-cigarettes.

Significance and Considerations

The authors of the study published in Addictive Behaviors note that their project might be too small to accurately predict larger trends for e-cigarette use among teenagers throughout the country. However, they also believe that their findings may very well reflect larger e-cigarette trends. No one knows why so many teenagers who currently smoke tobacco cigarettes also start using e-cigarettes. On one hand, this behavior might represent a dangerous deepening of involvement in nicotine use. On the other hand, at least some of the teens who start using electronic cigarettes may be trying to cut down on their use of nicotine-containing tobacco.

Posted on January 27th, 2014
Posted in Addiction

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