More Teens Puffing on E-Cigs Than Experts Thought

Electronic cigarette use was higher than previously thought in Hawaii teens

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) At the moment, electronic cigarettes are unregulated, widely advertised and readily available in the US — and they may be catching on with teens. But parents can take action to keep their kids from using nicotine products of any kind.

A new study found that many more Hawaii teens were using e-cigs than past estimates indicated. More teens used e-cigs than regular tobacco cigarettes, and some teens used both.

According to the Mayo Clinic, parents can take several steps to keep their children from smoking. These include setting a good example by not using any form of nicotine, warning of the health risks of nicotine use and addressing the techniques advertisers may use to convince teens to try nicotine products.

The authors of this recent study questioned whether high taxes on conventional cigarettes, aggressive advertising and flavors attractive to teens might be driving the increased use of e-cigs.

"The marketing is very aggressive here," said lead study author Thomas A. Wills, PhD, of the University of Hawaii Cancer Center in Honolulu, in a press release.

Dr. Wills continued, "You have to think carefully about the risks and benefits of using either tobacco or nicotine, which is known to be an addictive substance. A lot of teens think it is easy to quit smoking but it isn't true. It's hard for anybody to quit."

E-cigs are battery-powered devices that deliver nicotine as a vapor the user can inhale. They also include flavors and other chemicals.

The US Food and Drug Administration is currently studying e-cigs to determine whether they should be regulated or even banned in the US.

“It is worth noting that adolescents in Hawaii are exposed to aggressive marketing for e-cigarettes in several venues popular with adolescents, including radio and shopping malls but also on television and in movie theaters," Dr. Wills and team wrote. "Anecdotal reports from school administrators suggest that some parents perceive e-cigarettes as desirable and buy them for adolescents.”

Dr. Wills and team studied e-cig use among Hawaii teens. They surveyed 1,941 high school students in Hawaii in 2013. The students were 14.6 years old on average at the time of the study. Most were in the ninth grade.

Because parental support and education have been found to be factors in substance abuse, Dr. Wills and team collected that information about the students.

Of the students in the study, 11 percent lived in an extended family. Thirteen percent lived with a stepparent. Sixteen percent lived with a single parent. Sixty percent lived with their biological family.

The majority of the parents had completed an average of one year of education beyond high school.

Dr. Wills and team found that 29 percent of the teens studied had used e-cigs. Three percent of the students used conventional cigarettes only. Twelve percent used both e-cigs and conventional cigarettes.

Seventeen percent of the students used e-cigs only. Frequency varied from trying e-cigs once or twice to daily use.

Dr. Wills and colleagues found that 67 percent of the students thought e-cigs were healthier than conventional cigarettes. Current research cannot conclusively say whether e-cigs are truly healthier.

Family status appeared to affect both e-cig and conventional cigarette use. Students who lived with their biological families were less likely to use e-cigs or conventional cigarettes than students with other family situations. Those from single-parent or blended families were more likely to use conventional cigarettes. Those from single-parent or blended families were also more likely to use both e-cigs and conventional cigarettes.

Students whose parents had less education were more likely than those with college-educated parents to use e-cigs or both e-cigs and conventional cigarettes.

Dr. Wills and team noted that, although their study was small, the results were consistent with similar research.

This study was published Dec. 15 in Pediatrics.

A grant from the National Cancer Institute funded the study. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
December 10, 2014
Last Updated:
March 12, 2015