E-cigarettes are a new and growing fad amongst adolescents in high school. Several claims have been made regarding their increased safety in comparison to cigarettes. Unfortunately, scientific research regarding their effects on human health is limited and these claims can neither be confirmed nor refuted. Researchers have, however, found that using e-cigarettes during adolescence could increase the likelihood of using cigarettes later on. This in itself is a major concern considering the harmful long-term effects of cigarettes on human health.
The use of e-cigarettes in adolescents is a growing concern due to their rapidly increasing popularity over the past few years. Despite their increasing popularity, the effects of e-cigarettes on the user have not been fully investigated. Furthermore, it has not been conclusively determined whether e-cigarette use can increase the risk of using other combustible products including cigarettes, hookahs, cigars, or pipes later on in life. If proven true, e-cigarettes could be posing a great danger on adolescents, who will eventually move onto smoking cigarettes, which have been proven to have detrimental long-term effects on the user.
To date, there have been three individual studies investigating whether e-cigarette use in adolescents increases the risk of using other combustible substances. The first two studies involving ninth and tenth-grade students indicated an increased risk of cigarette and tobacco product use in students that used e-cigarettes. Despite a smaller sample size, similar results were observed in a third study involving young adults aged 16 to 26. All of the studies suggest that e-cigarette use may increase cigarette use in adolescents and therefore negatively affect their health.
To investigate the matter further, researchers examined whether e-cigarette use amongst older adolescents (eleventh and twelfth-grade students) increased risk of other combustible products when they reached legal age (eighteen years old). Researchers examined prospective data from the California Children’s Health Study (CHS) on e-cigarette use in a cohort of older adolescents. From this cohort, a sample of students was chosen for a follow-up survey on initiation of combustible products (including cigarettes) roughly 15.6 months after the initial survey. Complete data including initial e-cigarette use, and follow-up data on use of combustible products were obtained from 146 initial e-cigarettes users, and 152 never users (those that did not use e-cigarettes). Analysis of the data demonstrated that students that initially used e-cigarettes had a significantly higher likelihood of using cigarettes and combustible products during the follow-up evaluation. Moreover, adjusting for social environment (number of friends that smoke and friend’s attitude towards smoking), age at initial evaluation, age at follow-up, and time in months from initial evaluation did not alter these results.
The direct effects of e-cigarette use on human health remain unknown. However, in this study, the researchers demonstrated that e-cigarette use increases the risk of using cigarettes, as well as other combustible products. Refraining from e-cigarettes can potentially decrease the risk of cigarette and nicotine addiction later on in life. This fact alone speaks to the importance of regulating e-cigarette use, as cigarette addiction can lead to the development of lung cancer. Thus, considering the growing popularity of e-cigarettes, it is important to raise public awareness regarding the potential direct and indirect dangers of e-cigarette use in adolescents.
Written By: Haisam Shah, BSc