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Another study has found that teens and young adults who smoke electronic cigarettes are far more likely than non-vapers to try real tobacco, too.
Like others, this one doesn’t prove that e-cigarettes are a gateway to tobacco use, but it suggests that kids who are susceptible to nicotine addiction may get their start by vaping, which many see as harmless.
But a second study, also published Tuesday, shows that smoking bans and higher cigarette taxes can discourage teen smoking.
For the first report, Dr. Brian Primack of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and colleagues looked at surveys of 694 teens and young adults who had never smoked cigarettes.
They were asked about smoking in 2012-2013 and again a year later. After a year, 38 percent of those who said they used e-cigarettes had become regular cigarette smokers, while just under 10 percent of those who never used e-cigarettes had.
Primack’s among a growing number of experts who say e-cigarettes are just too seductive for teens and children.
"What we still need is the political will to act on the evidence and protect our youth."
“E-cigarettes are not subject to many laws that regulate traditional cigarettes, such as age limits on sales, taxation and labeling requirements,” he said in a statement.
“They also come in youth-oriented flavorings that laws have limited in traditional cigarettes, such as apple bubble gum and chocolate candy cane.”
The Food and Drug Administration has proposed making it illegal for children under 18 to use e-cigarettes.
There were not many e-cigarette users to begin with, the researchers note — just 16 out of the whole group. So it’s hard to draw any solid conclusions.
“Therefore, it could be interpreted that this small number may not translate into substantial public health risk,” the researchers wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Pediatrics.
It could be that some kids are just thrill-seekers, experts note. A study released Monday found that high school students use e-cigarette devices to smoke marijuana.
But Dr. Jonathan Klein, of the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t think so.
“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,” he wrote in a commentary.
“What we still need is the political will to act on the evidence and protect our youth,” he wrote.
“In the community – among tobacco-control experts – there’s been a lot of debate about whether e-cigs are a gateway to smoking cigarettes. Some people have said no, some people have said yes, some said it didn’t matter,” agreed Jonathan Bricker, a psychologist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
“This study says, 'yes, it is a gateway to smoking cigarettes,' and that makes it a significant study," said Bricker.
In the second study, Stanton Glantz of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education of the University of California, San Francisco and colleagues found that for each 10-cent increase in cigarette taxes, the likelihood that a youth would start smoking fell by about 3 percent.
Higher taxes did not affect older adolescents and young adults as much, they wrote in JAMA Pediatrics. They started studying teenagers in 1997, watching their smoking habits as they grew up.
Those living in areas with smoking bans in bars were 20 percent less likely to smoke than those living in areas without the bans, they found.
“Smoke-free bar laws are associated with lower rates of current smoking, as well as a decrease in the number of days reported smoking among current smokers,” the researchers wrote.
“When you pass workplace laws it sends a strong message that smoking is out,” Glantz said in an interview with Reuters Health.
“Teenagers are looking to adults, and see adults rejecting smoking.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18 percent of Americans smoke. It's the main cause of cancer, heart disease and lung disease worldwide.