e-Cigarette smoking appears to promote progression to traditional cigarette smoking and may be helping form a new population of smokers, according to a prospective study published online September 8 in JAMA Pediatrics.
Brian A. Primack, MD, PhD, from the Division of General Internal Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Pennsylvania, and colleagues analyzed data on 694 young nonsmokers who were attitudinally nonsusceptible to smoking at baseline. The very small proportion (2.3%) who already used e-cigarettes at baseline proved more likely to progress to smoking or to being open to it.
The cohort, which was more than 75% non-Hispanic white, consisted of 374 females. The mean age of the 16 baseline e-cigarette users was 19.5 years compared with 20 years for nonusers.
Study data came from waves 2 and 3 of the US-based Dartmouth Media, Advertising, and Health Study, a national survey of adolescents and young adults aged 16 to 26 years who were recruited via random digit dialing using landline (66.7%) and cellular (33.3%) telephone numbers.
The survey, conducted from October 1, 2012, to May 1, 2014, started tracking e-cigarette use at wave 2 (2012 – 2013), which served as the baseline, whereas wave 3 (2013 – 2014) served as follow-up for the current study.
Eligible participants had to be never-smokers and attitudinally nonsusceptible to smoking at baseline. This was assessed with these questions: “If one of your friends offered you a cigarette, would you try it?” and “Do you think you will smoke a cigarette sometime in the next year?” Response options included “definitely yes,” “probably yes,” “probably no,” and “definitely no.” Those who responded “definitely no” to both measures were considered nonsusceptible nonsmokers.
After a year, 11 of 16 baseline e-cigarette users (68.8%) and 128 of 678 participants nonusers (18.9%) progressed to traditional combustible cigarette smoking. After controlling for demographic covariates such as age, sex, and maternal education level, baseline e-cigarette use was independently associated with both progression to smoking (adjusted odds ratio [AOR], 8.3; 95% confidence interval, 1.2 – 58.6) and progression to susceptibility (AOR, 8.5; 95% CI, 1.3 – 57.2) among initially nonsusceptible nonsmokers.
“These findings support regulations that decrease the accessibility and appeal of e-cigarettes to nonsmoking adolescents and young adults,” Dr Primack and associates write.
Conceding that some might see the small percentage of baseline e-smokers as not translating into a substantial public health risk, the researchers caution that e-cigarette use is on the rise. “[D]ata published in 2015 suggest that large numbers of youth are initiating e-cigarette use and that as many as half of these individuals do not smoke traditional combustible cigarettes. Therefore, it will be important to continue surveillance among youth of both e-cigarette use and overlap with use of other tobacco products.”
Noting that many youth may be dual users of cigarettes and e-cigarettes, the authors say nicotine exposure may drive initial e-cigarette users to use cigarettes as a more efficient nicotine delivery device. In addition, nicotine content aside, “e-cigarettes may behaviorally accustom individuals to powerful cigarette smoking cues such as inhalation, exhalation, and holding the cigarette.”
Furthermore, e-cigarettes, which expose users to potentially harmful aerosolized substances other than nicotine, are not subject to regulations limiting cigarette smoking, such as age limits for sale, flavoring and marketing restrictions, clean air laws, taxes, and labeling requirements, which may increase their accessibility to youth. “For example, e-cigarettes are marketed on television, representing the first time in more than 40 years that a smoking-related device is advertised on this medium,” the investigators write.
In an accompanying editorial, Jonathan D. Klein, MD, MPH, an adolescent medicine specialist and an associate executive director of the American Academy of Pediatrics in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, noted that a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found that e-cigarette use in the National Youth Tobacco Survey increased from 4.5% in 2011 to 13.4% in 2014, affecting more than 2.2 million students. “The article by Primack et al is one more piece of evidence that the effect of e-cigarettes on youth is happening now in real time,” he writes, adding that “these data provide strong longitudinal evidence that e-cigarette use leads to smoking, most likely owing to nicotine addiction.”
Dr Klein also points to mounting concerns among health experts that e-cigarettes will also renormalize smoking, delay or prevent cessation, and cause former smokers to become re-addicted. He says the evidence suggests that e-cigarette users are less likely to quit smoking traditional cigarettes than nonusers In spite of such data and evidence of harm from e-smoking devices. He states that the US Food and Drug Administration has failed to assert authority and oversight over these alternative products.
“We do not need more research on this question; we have the evidence base, and we have strategies that work to protect nonsmokers from e-cigarettes and other forms of tobacco,” Dr Klein writes. “What we still need is the political will to act on the evidence and protect our youth.”
This study was supported by grants from the National Cancer Institute and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. The authors and Dr Klein have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.
*This news story was resourced by the Oral Cancer Foundation, and vetted for appropriateness and accuracy.