Is Vaping a Gateway Drug?

Is Vaping a Gateway Drug?

A 2016 USC study suggests that some teens who never would have smoked are now vaping.

The USC study found that the number of twelfth-graders in Southern California who had smoked in the past 30 days dropped from 19%, in 1995, to about 9%, in 2004, and then leveled off, with the rate of smoking just below 8%, in 2014. But, when cigarettes and e-cigarettes were combined, some 14% of high school seniors in 2014 said they had smoked or vaped in the last 30 days, which is nearly an astounding 60% increase in the past decade.

“If teenagers who vape are using e-cigarettes instead of cigarettes, we would have expected to see the decline in smoking rates continue through 2014,” says Jessica L. Barrington-Trimis, PhD, lead author and assistant professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “But, what we’ve seen is a downward trend in cigarette use, from 1995 to 2004, but no further decrease in cigarette smoking rates in 2014. The combined e-cigarette and cigarette use in 2014 far exceeded what we would have expected, if teens were simply substituting cigarettes with e-cigarettes. The data suggest that at least some of the teens who are vaping would not have smoked cigarettes.”

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Cigarette use is the largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States. Cigarette smoking kills more than 480,000 Americans annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“An important question in the rapidly evolving landscape of youth tobacco product use is whether e-cigarettes are replacing cigarettes,” says Rob Scot McConnell, MD, the study’s senior author and professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School. “However, use of e-cigarettes by youth who would not otherwise have smoked results in exposure to the hazards of inhaled vaporized liquids and flavorings in e-cigarettes and may result in exposure to nicotine that can damage the adolescent brain.”

“Because e-cigarettes are perceived as less harmful and less dangerous than combustible cigarettes, another concern is that teens may be introduced to nicotine use via e-cigarettes,” Barrington-Trimis says. “In California, where smoking rates are among the lowest in the country, the increase in vaping, possibly followed by increases in smoking, could erode the progress that has been made over the last several decades in tobacco control.”

by Leonard Kim

Does your child have a problem with vaping? Our family medicine experts can help. If you are in the Los Angeles area, request  an appointment or call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273).

Originally published 7/14/16.