E-cigarettes act as a ‘gateway’ to smoking tobacco for teens, experts warn

WASHINGTON — Cigarette smoking is not the socially accepted habit it once was in the United States. While science has helped new generations realize the dangers of smoking, a new study finds many children may be getting lured back into using tobacco. Researchers with the Children’s National Hospital say young teens who use e-cigarettes are much more likely to switch to normal cigarettes, even if they never intended to pick up the habit.

“Research is showing us that adolescent e-cigarette users who progress to cigarette smoking are not simply those who would have ended up smoking cigarette anyway,” says lead study author Olusegun Owotomo in a press release. “Our study shows that e-cigarettes can predispose adolescents to cigarette smoking, even when they have no prior intentions to do so.”

Move from e-cigarettes to real thing comes very fast

Researchers examined over 8,000 children in the U.S. ranging in age from 12 to 17 who had never smoked. The group is part of the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) study. The nationwide review looked at tobacco use among adolescents from 2014 to 2016.

The results reveal those using e-cigarette products are over four times more likely to start smoking normal tobacco products within the following year. Researchers say e-cigarettes are a brand new risk factor for doctors to examine when studying nicotine use disorder. A study by the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention discovered 28 percent of high schoolers had become e-cigarette users. Another 11 percent of middle school students had also joined this growing trend in 2019.

The study warns that e-cigarette technology continues to advance and may be becoming more addictive than previous models. For children who pick up the habit, researchers say the risk of developing nicotine use disorder is increasing every year. They add the only sure way to prevent kids from moving to more harmful habits is to cut e-cigarettes out all together.

“Abstinence from e-cigarettes can protect teens from becoming future smokers and should be framed as a smoking prevention strategy by all concerned stakeholders,” says Dr. Owotomo. “Pediatricians are best positioned to educate patients and families on the clinical and psychosocial consequences of e-cigarette use and should support education campaigns and advocacy efforts geared to discourage adolescent e-cigarette use.”

The study appears in the journal Pediatrics.

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