A new study out Monday could fuel the heated debate over whether electronic cigarettes are a preferable alternative to traditional cigarettes among teens or if they’re encouraging smoking among people who otherwise wouldn’t have picked up the habit.
University of Southern California researchers tracked tobacco use among five groups of high-schoolers who graduated in 1995, 1998, 2001, 2004, and 2014. The number of high school seniors who’d smoked in the past month fell from 19 percent in 1995 to 9 percent in 2004. That number has fallen to about 8 percent now.
But the group of nearly 5,500 graduates from 2014 were unique — they were the first cohort who also had e-cigarettes at their disposal. When the question was expanded to ask whether the students smoked or vaped, 14 percent said they had.
That suggests some e-cigarette users are teens who otherwise wouldn’t have smoked, the study’s authors said. The finding echoes the results of a paper published by the same group of researchers in May that found that teenagers who give e-cigarettes a try are much more likely to try regular cigarettes within a year than their peers who haven’t vaped.
The landscape of e-cigarettes is changing, though. Last month, California raised the minimum age to purchase e-cigarettes from 18 to 21. The FDA announced sweeping regulations for e-cigarettes in May.