Manufacturers’ Claims That E-Cigarettes Discourage Teen Tobacco Use Go Up In Smoke

CREDIT: AP Photo/Christophe Ena

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics contradicts electronic cigarette manufacturers’ assertion that their products are a healthier alternative to traditional tobacco that can discourage regular cigarette use.

“Use of e-cigarettes does not discourage, and may encourage, conventional cigarette use among US adolescents,” wrote researchers from the Center for Tobacco Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco.

The study authors analyzed survey data from about 20,000 middle school and high school students who complete the National Youth Tobacco Survey in 2011 and 2012. The results were striking: adolescent e-cigarette users were more likely to have ever smoked regular cigarettes or be current smokers, and also had higher odds of being regular, established smokers. Current e-cigarette smokers were more likely to say they wanted to quit the following year — unfortunately, teens who experimented with e-cigarettes were also less likely to actually abstain from smoking tobacco products.

That stands in stark contrast to the line advanced by the e-cigarette industry. Jason Healy, president of tobacco giant Lorillard’s Blu eCigs unit, dismissed concerns that e-cigarettes may help create a new generation of smokers to Bloomberg Businessweek last week. “People are trying to make us out as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. We’re a sheep in wolf’s clothing. Ninety-nine percent of our customers are existing smokers,” said Healy.

If other studies confirm the findings, it could spell trouble for the booming $1.5 billion e-cigarette industry, which has already come under scrutiny from local and federal lawmakers in the absence of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations on their products. The three most populous cities in America, New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles have all voted to ban smoking e-cigarettes indoors and in public parks over concerns that they may contain carcinogens and that their open use in restaurants and public spaces could nudge impressionable young people towards smoking.

Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson, who is a tobacco user, had warned that e-cigarettes may be a “gateway smoke” during debate over the issue last week. “I will not support anything that might attract one new smoker,” said Wesson while speaking on behalf of the bill. “I can’t sit silent on this. This kills. It probably will kill me, ultimately.”

A Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report from 2012 found that although overall teen smoking rates declined by about one percent compared to the previous year, self-reported e-cigarette use among middle-school and high-school students had doubled. The FDA is expected to issue regulations on the marketing, manufacturing, and distribution of e-cigarettes this year.