Teens are more likely to use electronic cigarettes if their friends use them, a new study suggests. The research, published online July 27 in the journal Pediatrics, found a greater risk of “vaping” by teens was associated with a favorable reaction to e-cigarettes by their friends.
E-cigarettes are battery-operated products designed to deliver nicotine, flavor and other chemicals. They work by turning chemicals, including highly addictive nicotine, into an aerosol that is inhaled by the user. However, because they have not been fully studied, consumers do not know how much nicotine is being inhaled or if there are other potentially harmful chemicals in the vapor.
Of particular concern to health professionals is the increased use of e-cigarettes by teens. Between 2011 and 2014, use of the devices tripled among U.S. adolescents. In addition to the unknown health hazards of the devices, health officials fear that e-cigarette use will lead adolescents to take up traditional tobacco products.
While previous studies have found evidence of links between use of traditional and e-cigarettes, the new study suggests that some teens picking up electronic cigarettes belong to a unique group. Of the teens who said they had used e-cigarettes, about 40 percent had never smoked traditional cigarettes.
“There is a lot of concern by the public health community that e-cigarettes may be recruiting a whole new group of people who never smoked cigarettes,” lead author Jessica Barrington-Trimis, PhD, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, told Reuters Health.
For the new study, Barrington-Trimis and her colleagues surveyed 2,084 11th and 12th graders in the Southern California Children’s Health Study during spring 2014. The researchers found that 25 percent of the participants had tried e-cigarettes and of that group, 10 percent reported using the devices in the past 30 days compared to about 6 percent who said they’d smoked traditional cigarettes in the same time period.
Of the e-cigarette users, 91 percent said they would receive a positive response to their use of electronic cigarettes from their best friends compared to less than 31 percent of never-users. And it is not just the acceptance of friends that influenced the teens. If there was an e-cigarette user in their home, teens were more than six times more likely to take up the habit than teens from homes where the devices weren’t used.
Joy Friedman, MD, section head of adolescent pediatrics at the Beaumont Health System in Royal Oak, Mich., noted in an email to MedPage Today that the study results suggested e-cigarettes may be more socially acceptable to teenagers than traditional cigarettes.
“When I discuss cigarette smoking with teens, they often tell me that they think cigarettes are ‘disgusting’ due to the immediate effects: foul breath, stained teeth, bad breath,” said Friedman, who was not involved in the study.
“Health educators need to continue to promote the message that e-cigarettes are not entirely safe, and smoking these can lead to nicotine dependence, especially in teenagers as their brains are still developing,” she added.