Adolescents who use e-cigarettes are much more likely to smoke conventional cigarettes, according to a study released Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The results show that 43.9 percent of sixth- through 12th-graders who had used e-cigarettes said they intended to light up tobacco cigarettes over the next year, compared with 21.5 percent who had never used the electronic nicotine delivery systems.
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Overall, more than 263,000 adolescents who had never smoked before used e-cigarettes in 2013, up from 79,000 in 2011, the CDC reported in a study in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research. The data comes from the agency's National Youth Tobacco Surveys for 2011-2013.
The study also showed that 21.9 percent of the youths who had never smoked traditional cigarettes intended to try them in the next year but that, overall, the percentage who reported an intention to smoke declined "significantly" in the 2013 survey.
There is debate about whether e-cigarettes promote cigarette use or can help prevent it by offering people access to nicotine-laced vapor without the harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke. Others say that e-cigarettes may help wean smokers off tobacco.
In April, the Food and Drug Administration announced plans to regulate e-cigarettes, which came to the United States in 2006.
A study in the Lancet in November 2013 concluded that "E-cigarettes, with or without nicotine, were modestly effective at helping smokers to quit, with similar achievement of abstinence as with nicotine patches, and few adverse events."
Sally Satel, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a psychiatrist who specializes in addiction, even argued that promoting e-cigarettes should be a "public health priority," free of taxes and with easily accessible starter kits.
The CDC, however, is "very concerned about nicotine use among our youth, regardless of whether it comes from conventional cigarettes, e-cigarettes or other tobacco products," Tim McAfee, director of the agency's Office on Smoking and Health, said in a news release.
With e-cigarette companies marketing heavily to young people and 80 percent of cigarette smokers starting the habit by age 18, the CDC considers intervening with this age group critical.