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E-Cigarettes: Gateway to Nicotine Addiction for U.S. Teens, Says UCSF Study

First National Analysis Strongly Associates E-Cigarettes with Smoking for Many Adolescents

By Elizabeth Fernandez    |   UCSF.edu | March 6, 2014

E-Cigarettes: Gateway to Nicotine Addiction for U.S. Teens, Says UCSF Study

Lauren Dutra, PhD

E-cigarettes, promoted as a way to quit regular cigarettes, may actually be a new route to conventional smoking and nicotine addiction for teenagers, according to a new UC San Francisco study.

In the first analysis of the relationship between e-cigarette use and smoking among adolescents in the United States, UCSF researchers found that adolescents who used the devices were more likely to smoke cigarettes and less likely to quit smoking. The study of nearly 40,000 youth around the country also found that e-cigarette use among middle and high school students doubled between 2011 and 2012, from 3.1 percent to 6.5 percent.
 
"Despite claims that e-cigarettes are helping people quit smoking, we found that e-cigarettes were associated with more, not less, cigarette smoking among adolescents," said lead author Lauren Dutra, a postdoctoral fellow at the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education.
 
"E-cigarettes are likely to be gateway devices for nicotine addiction among youth, opening up a whole new market for tobacco," she said.
 
E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that look like cigarettes and deliver an aerosol of nicotine and other chemicals. Promoted as safer alternatives to cigarettes and smoking cessation aids, the devices are rapidly gaining popularity among adults and youth in the U.S. and around the world. Unregulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, e-cigarettes have been widely promoted by their manufacturers as a way for people to quit smoking conventional cigarettes. They are sold in flavors such as chocolate and strawberry that are banned in conventional cigarettes because of their appeal to youth.
 
In the new UCSF study, the researchers examined survey data from middle and high school students who completed the National Youth Tobacco Survey in 2011 and 2012.
 
The authors found that the devices were associated with higher odds of progression from experimenting with cigarettes to becoming established cigarette smokers. Additionally, adolescents who smoked both conventional cigarettes and e-cigarettes smoked more cigarettes per day than non-e-cigarette users.
 
Contrary to advertiser claims that e-cigarettes can help consumers stop smoking conventional cigarettes, teenagers who used e-cigarettes and conventional cigarettes were much less likely to have abstained from cigarettes in the past 30 days, 6 months, or year. At the same time, they were more likely to be planning to quit smoking in the next year than smokers who did not use e-cigarettes.
 

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