A new gateway drug? Many high school kids “graduate” to using cigarettes after trying e-cigarettes

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes as they’re more commonly known, are usually considered to be safer than traditional tobacco cigarettes. However, new research from Yale University has shown that these “healthier” cigarette alternatives can be just as dangerous. According to the study, teenagers who smoke e-cigarettes have a greater chance of taking up tobacco cigarettes in the future. By contrast, teenagers who smoke cigarettes are highly unlikely to use e-cigarettes later on.

To carry out the study, researchers recruited over 800 high school students from three Connecticut public schools. The students were surveyed from 2013 to 2015.

At the beginning of the study, almost nine percent of the participants had used an e-cigarette in the last month, while those who had smoked cigarettes came to about five percent. By 2014, the number of e-cigarette users rose to 12 percent, while cigarette smokers grew to 5.4 percent. Come 2015, both e-cigarette and tobacco cigarettes users had increased to 14.5 percent and 8.5 percent, respectively.

Based on their findings, researchers discovered that e-cigarette use bolstered the likelihood of smoking tobacco in the future by as much as seven percent between 2013 and 2014. However, the rate dipped to more than four times in 2015.

Interestingly, when the researchers studied if tobacco smokers were more likely to switch to e-cigarettes along the line, they discovered the opposite. (Related: E-cigarettes Make Smoke Addicts More Alcoholic Than Before – Study Proves)

Krysten Bold, the co-author of the study and an associate research scientist at the Yale School of Medicine’s department of psychiatry, noted that teenagers who used e-cigarettes were “more consistently likely to smoke.” Bold added that e-cigarettes were especially prevalent among the youth and that their usage was most likely due to having “many features that are appealing to kids.”

Speaking of her team’s findings, Bold has stated that they “highlight that we really need to talk to kids about e-cigarettes and their potential consequences.” These “potential consequences”, according to a post by in the Harvard Health Publishing website, run the gamut from insulin resistance to impaired prefrontal brain development. The latter has been found to lead to poor impulse control and attention deficit disorder.

On top of this, the ingredients found in e-liquids (the fluids that create the vapor from e-cigarettes) can pose dangers of their own. Diacetyl, for example, is a chemical compound that’s been connected with the heightened chance of developing bronchiolitis obliterans — a rare lung disease that permanently damages the bronchioles, the smallest airways present in the lungs. In addition, glycerol and propylene glycol, which are major e-liquid components, can decompose and transform into toxic compounds when heated. Diacetyl is typically added to e-liquids of flavored e-cigarettes, while the threat of glycerol and propylene glycol turning into formaldehyde is greater in high-wattage vaporizers.

In spite of these worrying findings, a number of people have noted that they don’t fully demonstrate a causal relationship between smoking traditional and electronic cigarettes. Kenneth Warner, professor emeritus of public health at the University of Michigan, remarked: “This study shows an increased probability of trying a cigarette if they’ve tried a vape, but I don’t believe they establish a causal relationship.

“We’re doing incredibly well on youth smoking. It’s dropped by half in five years, so something right is occurring. Vaping may prove to be a very short-lived fad, and it seems the latest data is showing that. If the numbers continue to fall, it may end looking like much ado about nothing.”

Regardless, the researchers feel that more effort should be put into informing the youth on the potential consequences of e-cigarettes.

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