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Vaping quadruples chance of smoking cigarettes in young adults, Pitt study says

Ben Schmitt
| Monday, Dec. 11, 2017, 10:48 a.m.
Alisha Basinger, 31, of Connellsville, blows vapor into the air with fellow 'vapers' as they gather at the VCCPA15: A Vaping & eCig Convention at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Downtown on Sunday, June 14, 2015.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Alisha Basinger, 31, of Connellsville, blows vapor into the air with fellow 'vapers' as they gather at the VCCPA15: A Vaping & eCig Convention at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Downtown on Sunday, June 14, 2015.

Young adults who use e-cigarettes or “vape” are four times more likely to pick up a regular cigarette habit, according to a University of Pittsburgh study released Monday.

The research, published in the American Journal of Medicine, provides evidence that e-cigarettes are not a smoking cessation tool, but rather a gateway to cigarette addiction, experts said.

“Early evidence on the potential value of e-cigarettes for cessation or reduction of cigarette smoking has been mixed,” said lead author Dr. Brian A. Primack, director of Pitt's Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health, and dean of Pitt's Honors College. “Our study finds that in nonsmokers, e-cigarettes make people more likely to start smoking. This supports policy and educational interventions designed to decrease the use of e-cigarettes among nonsmokers.”

The research team analyzed a survey of U.S. adults, between ages 18 and 30, who were randomly selected in March 2013 to complete a questionnaire about their tobacco use. Eighteen months later, in October 2014, 915 participants who said they had never smoked cigarettes completed a follow-up survey.

Of the participants who said they vaped e-cigarettes in the first questionnaire, 47.7 percent had started smoking cigarettes 18 months later, compared to 11.2 percent of those who did not use e-cigarettes.

Bill Godshall, executive director and founder of SmokeFree Pennsylvania, a nonprofit that advocates anti-smoking policies and supports vaping as a way to quit smoking, called the study “a witch hunt to demonize vaping.”

“In order for e-cigarettes to be a “gateway” to cigarette smoking, a person's regular use of e-cigarettes must cause — not merely precede — a person's regular cigarette smoking,” he said. “This study simply found that young adults who “ever used” an e-cigarette were more likely to subsequently ‘ever use' a cigarette. By Primack's deceptive logic, thousands of behaviors people engage in before they smoke their first cigarette are all gateways to smoking.”

Godshall said youth and adult cigarette smoking rates have hit record lows every year since 2010 when vaping started gaining popularity.

Primack said he believes vaping nicotine products “could lead e-cigarette users to seek out more nicotine-packed tobacco cigarettes.

“Young adulthood is an important time when people establish whether they use tobacco or not,” Primack said in a news release. “Our findings suggest that clinicians who treat e-cigarette users should counsel them both about their potential for harm and about the high risk of transitioning to tobacco cigarettes among initial nonsmokers.”

Grants from the National Cancer Institute funded the research.

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt.

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