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Teens who vape are more likely to become habitual smokers

Published:Wednesday | November 9, 2016 | 11:00 AM
Vaping

According TO a recent study of more than 3,000 students in United States public schools, those who were into vaping at the beginning of their sophomore year were more likely to become traditional cigarette smokers over the next six months compared with their classmates who didn't vape. The vapers were also more likely to become daily smokers and to smoke more cigarettes.

The findings, published yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggest that public health officials have some justification for viewing e-cigarettes as a gateway to smoking for teens who would otherwise steer clear of tobacco products.

Dr Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has been one of the most relentless proponents of this idea. Since at least 2013, he has warned that e-cigarettes - despite their innocuous image - have the potential to get teens hooked on nicotine. Once they're addicted, they're more susceptible to trying regular cigarettes.

The teen years are pivotal, because 90 per cent of adult smokers picked up the habit in their teens, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. On top of that, the US surgeon general warns that nicotine exposure during adolescence "may have lasting adverse consequences for brain development".

FRIEDEN'S FEARS

Surveys and studies have validated Frieden's fears. A report this summer in the journal Pediatrics found that high schoolers were six times more likely to start smoking cigarettes if they had a history of vaping than if they didn't. The link between vaping and later smoking was particularly strong in students who said they had "no intention of smoking" when they were first interviewed.

And on Monday, Pediatrics published a study blaming flavours like 'gummy bear' and "bubble gum' for making e-cigarettes seem appealing and less dangerous to kids in middle school and high school across the country.

The study, led by researchers from USC's Keck School of Medicine, found that one-third of the 10th-graders surveyed had tried e-cigarettes at least once. Most of those students told interviewers they hadn't vaped in the last 30 days, while four per cent said they vaped once or twice in the last month, and five per cent said they vaped more often than that.

Six months later, 20 per cent of the frequent vapers had become frequent smokers and an additional 12 per cent had become occasional smokers, according to the study.