For Young Smokers, E-Cigarettes May Do More Harm than Good

Although e-cigarettes may help some individuals who want to quit smoking traditional cigarettes, a new study led by researchers at Columbia University suggests that vaping e-cigarettes may do more harm than good for young adults who also smoke. 

The findings were published in the American Journal of Preventative Health.

Over the last decade, vaping has become more popular in the United States, especially among young people. A few studies have shown that vaping can help some individuals who are trying to kick the cigarette habit.

Previous research suggested that e-cigarettes are appealing to young adults because they help them to regulate their mood and provide a sensory experience similar to smoking. However, it’s unknown whether vaping has affected cigarette smoking patterns in young adults. “E-cigarettes are sometimes touted as a tool to help smokers quit, but it is unclear whether among young people who have smoked cigarettes, vaping leads them to be more or less likely to cut down or quit smoking,” says Mark Olfson, MD, MPH, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and lead author of the paper.

To find out, Olfson and his team looked at the effects of vaping on the cigarette-smoking patterns from a nationally representative sample of 12,415 young adults (age 18 to 35 years) from 2012 to 2013.

The researchers found that only 13 percent of young adults who had vaped reported using e-cigarettes to try to quit smoking. Among young adults who had ever smoked cigarettes, those who had vaped in the last year were only about one-seventh as likely to have quit cigarette smoking during the year. They were also significantly less likely to have reduced their cigarette smoking. Among young adults who had smoked cigarettes in the past year, those who had also vaped were more likely to be daily cigarette smokers. For adults, 26 to 35 years of age who smoked cigarettes in the last year, vaping was more strongly linked to heavier cigarette use.   

“These results suggest that, among young adults who smoke cigarettes, vaping may lower the chance of reducing or quitting cigarettes and increase their risk of daily cigarette smoking,” says Olfson. “Given rising use of e-cigarettes among young people and their link to heavier cigarette smoking, consideration should be given to policies aimed at limiting access to e-cigarettes or make them less appealing. This might involve  reducing their nicotine content, reducing or eliminating flavored e-cigarettes, implementing age verification requirements, or enacting new taxes.”

The study is titled, “E-cigarette use among young adults in the U.S.”

The other authors of this paper are Melanie Wall, PhD (Columbia University Irving Medical Center), Shang-Min Liu, MS (Columbia), Ryan S. Sultan, MD (Columbia), Carlos Blanco, MD, PhD (National Institute on Drug Abuse).

The study was supported by NIH DA019606 (Drs. Olfson and Wall and Ms. Liu).

The authors report no financial or other conflicts of interest. The views expressed are those of the author and should not be construed to represent the views of any of the sponsoring organizations or agencies or the US government.