Electronic cigarettes with higher levels of nicotine can be a gateway to tobacco use, a study has shown.
Researchers compared the nicotine concentration in e-cigarettes to future smoking behavior in teenagers.
They found that close to half of teenagers who smoked e-cigarettes with high levels of nicotine were smoking tobacco cigarettes six months later.
The study warns about the difficulty in distinguishing levels of nicotine in e-cigarettes due to mislabeling, which can cause teenagers to buy some that lead to dependency on tobacco products.
E-cigarettes are a mixture of flavored liquid and nicotine. This is heated up until it has formed vapor, which can then be inhaled by the user. Both the liquid and nicotine can cause health problems for the user such as an increased risk of developing cancer
‘We know that smoking is one of the most dangerous things that you can do for your health, especially if you begin during adolescence,’ said Adam Leventhal, director of the University of Southern California Health, Emotion and Addiction Laboratory at the Keck School of Medicine.
‘Because nicotine has mood-elevating and addictive effects, teens who use e-cigarettes with stronger nicotine concentrations may be less willing to stop vaping and be more inclined to use other nicotine products, like conventional cigarettes,’ Leventhal said.
Leventhal and his team from USC studied 181 teenagers from ten high school across the city and their tobacco use.
The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, divided the nicotine amounts in e-cigarettes into four categories: none, low (1-5mg/ml of nicotine), medium (6-17mg/ml of nicotine) and high (18mg/ml or more of nicotine).
What parents NEED to know about e-cigarettes
How they work:
E-cigarettes use a mixture of flavored liquids and nicotine to create a vapor.
This vapor is then inhaled by the user similarly to how one would smoke a regular cigarette.
Are these devices safe?
Since these devices don’t use traditional smoke, people are under the assumption that they are safe for you.
But the liquid in the e-cigarettes can contain harmful toxins and carcinogens including anti-freeze.
The nicotine in the e-cigarettes also had addictive components and can lead to other tobacco use. This can hinder brain development in teens.
Also, the devices can overheat and explode if defective.
The Food and Drug Administration does not certify e-cigarettes as a product to get over smoking regular cigarettes.
They found that 43 percent high school students who used e-cigarettes with high levels of nicotine were smoking regular cigarettes six months later.
In comparison, only ten percent of high school students who used low levels of nicotine and six percent of students who used medium levels of nicotine were frequent smokers.
The researchers defined frequent smokers as those who had at least three cigarettes in the last month.
‘We know that teens who vape e-cigarettes are much more likely to become conventional cigarette smokers,’ Leventhal said. ‘Our study suggests that the nicotine in e-cigarettes may be a key reason why teens who vape progress to more frequent smoking.’
E-cigarettes have been up for debate since they entered the US and European market in 2006.
This is because of the growing evidence that nicotine can be damaging to the health.
Nicotine is highly addictive and may harm the developing teenage brain by increasing the risk of attention problems and depression, Leventhal said.
More than 16 million Americans live with smoking-related diseases caused by tobacco use.
These diseases include heart problems and cancers.
The researchers warn that allowing teenagers to smoke e-cigarettes could lead them to using other tobacco-related products later in life.
‘While previous research reported that most adolescents were using nicotine-free e-cigarettes, results from our survey and other soon-to-be published studies show that many more teens are vaping e-cigarettes with nicotine than we originally thought,’ Leventhal said.
But it is not always easy to determine what type of e-cigarette someone is purchasing and its level of nicotine concentration.
Researchers say the e-cigarettes they studied tended to have higher levels of nicotine than what was labeled on the packaging.
Paying attention to the packaging and purchasing the lowest level of nicotine, or ones with no nicotine at all, is the best way to avoid becoming dependent on tobacco products.
Parents need to recognize the dangers of e-cigarettes, especially the ones with higher levels of nicotine, to explain to their children why they shouldn’t smoke them.
This can prevent them from purchasing ones with higher levels of nicotine.
‘It’s feasible that youths who vape go on to smoke conventional cigarettes because they get used to the act of inhaling something and the sensation they get in their lungs even if they vape nicotine-free e-cigarettes,’ Leventhal said. ‘This study suggests that nicotine may be integral to transitioning from vaping to smoking in teens.’