How Dangerous are e-cigarettes?

A lot of cities and organizations are sorting through how to respond to the rise of e-cigarettes. Many are beginning to treat them like cigarettes, extending smoking policies to e-cigarettes. Mark Kleiman thinks this is nuts.

The Los Angeles City Council just voted for a complete ban on e-cigarettes wherever real cigarettes are banned, including parks, beaches, and bars. (UCLA adopted a similar policy campus-wide a few months ago.) Seems to me like a bizarre choice, and likely to retard the movement from cancer sticks to e-cigs that, if not interrupted, might save hundreds of thousands of lives per year.

But, not so fast. A new study finds that e-cigarettes create new cigarette smokers.

E-cigarettes, promoted as a way to quit regular cigarettes, may actually be a new route to conventional smoking and nicotine addiction for teenagers, according to a new UC San Francisco study.

In the first analysis of the relationship between e-cigarette use and smoking among adolescents in the United States, UCSF researchers found that adolescents who used the devices were more likely to smoke cigarettes and less likely to quit smoking. The study of nearly 40,000 youth around the country also found that e-cigarette use among middle and high school students doubled between 2011 and 2012, from 3.1 percent to 6.5 percent.

“Despite claims that e-cigarettes are helping people quit smoking, we found that e-cigarettes were associated with more, not less, cigarette smoking among adolescents,” said lead author Lauren Dutra, a postdoctoral fellow at the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education.

“E-cigarettes are likely to be gateway devices for nicotine addiction among youth, opening up a whole new market for tobacco,” she said.

It gets worse:

The authors found that the devices were associated with higher odds of progression from experimenting with cigarettes to becoming established cigarette smokers. Additionally, adolescents who smoked both conventional cigarettes and e-cigarettes smoked more cigarettes per day than non-e-cigarette users.

Contrary to advertiser claims that e-cigarettes can help consumers stop smoking conventional cigarettes, teenagers who used e-cigarettes and conventional cigarettes were much less likely to have abstained from cigarettes in the past 30 days, 6 months, or year. At the same time, they were more likely to be planning to quit smoking in the next year than smokers who did not use e-cigarettes.

Is this an abberation?

The new results are consistent with a similar study of 75,000 Korean adolescents published last year by UCSF researchers, which also found that adolescents who used e-cigarettes were less likely to have stopped smoking conventional cigarettes.

What’s interesting to me it this. We’ve dramatically reduced smoking over the years without criminalizing them by changing the culture. E-cigarettes seem to have the potential to undo these culture changes. It’s like a seemingly less dangerous, but more contagious mutation of an infectious bacteria. Do we wait to see what happens? To see how dangerous it really is? Or, do we try to eliminate or aggressively manage it?

Of course, one of the unknowns is, as these devices become more widespread, what else will they be used for? What else people will start “vaping” with these devices.

via E-cigarettes are gateway to nicotine addiction for teens | University of California.

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