Cigarette use is among the leading preventable causes of death and diseases in the United States, killing more than 480,000 Americans per year, but thanks to aggressive campaigns that spread awareness about the dangers of tobacco products, the number of smokers in the U.S. has plummeted, dipping by 20 percent in the last decade.
Teen smoking also dropped. The National Youth Tobacco Survey reported a long-term drop in smoking rates among teens starting 1995, which leveled off in 2014.
Progress in the fight against tobacco smoking, however, may be reversed by the growing popularity of electronic cigarettes among teens.
E-cigarettes are devices that vaporize liquid that may or may not contain nicotine, the harmful and addictive chemical compound found in tobacco products.
In the new study published in the journal Pediatrics on July 11, researchers have found that some teens who would have never tried smoking cigarettes are now vaping.
Study researcher Jessica Barrington-Trimis from Keck School of Medicine of University of Southern California and colleagues followed five groups of high schoolers who graduated in different years from 1995 to 2014 to investigate the prevalence of e-cigarettes use and cigarette smoking among teens.
The researchers found that while the number of teens who smoked in the past month dropped from 19 percent in 1995 to under 8 percent in 2014, about 14 percent reported smoking or vaping in the last 30 days in 2014.
The figures pose concern because it is possible that teens would be introduced to nicotine use via e-cigarettes since the latter are perceived to be less dangerous and less harmful compared with combustible cigarettes.
A study published in the journal Pediatrics last month strengthens the idea of this possibility, as it has found evidence that older teens who try to experiment with e-cigarettes are six times more likely to try using regular cigarettes within about a year compared to their peers who never vaped.
"Smoking prevalence among Southern California adolescents has declined over 2 decades, but the high prevalence of combined e-cigarette or cigarette use in 2014, compared with historical Southern California smoking prevalence, suggests that e-cigarettes are not merely substituting for cigarettes and indicates that e-cigarette use is occurring in adolescents who would not otherwise have used tobacco products," the researchers wrote.
Vaping in itself also poses concern, as use of e-cigarettes in young people who would not otherwise have smoked can result in exposure to hazardous vaporized liquids and flavorings as well as nicotine that can damage their young brain.