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Survey: U.S. Teens' E-Cigarette Use Tops Traditional Cigarettes
From the Wall Street Journal of Tue, 16 Dec 2014 20:22:19 EST
A woman uses an electronic cigarette at The Vapor Spot vapor bar in Los Angeles.
A woman uses an electronic cigarette at The Vapor Spot vapor bar in Los Angeles. Reuters

A new survey shows U.S. teenagers are more likely to use electronic cigarettes than traditional cigarettes, a trend researchers say is driven by teens’ belief that e-cigarettes are less harmful.

The University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future survey could add fuel to the policy debate over the battery-powered devices, which heat nicotine-laced liquid into a vapor and are regulated far more loosely than combustible cigarettes.

Among 8th-graders, 9% said they used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, compared with 4% for traditional cigarettes. Among 10th-graders, 16% reported using e-cigarettes and 7% reported using cigarettes. Among 12th-graders, 17% reported using e-cigarettes and 14% reported using cigarettes.

The study, published Tuesday, surveyed more than 40,000 students across the U.S. earlier this year to identify substance-abuse trends. It was the first time the closely followed survey, which has been conducted for 40 years, asked teens about e-cigarettes.

The results follow a report last month by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicating a sharp rise in e-cigarettes among students, a trend that officials said they found alarming due to the possible adverse effects of nicotine on the developing brain.

But the CDC survey, conducted in 2013, still indicated teen use of traditional cigarettes to be higher than e-cigarettes. The percentage of high-school students who said they used an e-cigarette in the past 30 days was 4.5%. Just 1.1% of middle-school students said they used the device.

In addition to asking about e-cigarette use, Michigan researchers asked teens about the perceived risk of e-cigarettes. Only 15% of 8th-graders said regular use of e-cigarettes is harmful, while 62% of 8th-graders said smoking one or more packs of cigarettes is harmful.

“A lot of teens are using e-cigarettes and see it as a harmless form of entertainment,” said Richard Miech, a research professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. “They’re not aware that it can contribute to nicotine addiction.”

There isn’t conclusive research that youth who use e-cigarettes take up traditional cigarettes.

Public-health officials remain concerned e-cigarettes could serve as a new gateway to smoking cigarettes because the products are similar. A previous CDC study of e-cigarette use showed that one in five middle-school students who tried e-cigarettes never tried traditional cigarettes.

E-cigarette advocates say the devices are an effective way to help smokers quit traditional cigarettes. Though e-cigarettes deliver nicotine, which is addictive, most researchers say they are less harmful than traditional cigarettes, which release harmful toxins through combustion.

E-cigarette sales have surged in recent years and could top $2 billion this year, about 2% of the overall U.S. tobacco market, according to industry estimates.

Legislators and public-health advocates have criticized the e-cigarette industry because the products come in child-friendly flavors like chocolate and cherry. They also have expressed concern that 10 states still allow e-cigarette sales to minors and many states and cities allow e-cigarettes to be used in public spaces, which can make their use seem normal to young people.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is working to finalize rules that would ban sales of the devices to anyone under 18, part of a broader set of federal regulations proposed in April. The agency hasn’t proposed banning Internet sales, limiting flavors or restricting ads.

Write to Tripp Mickle at

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