Teens Are Using E-Cigs to Quit Smoking, and Failing Miserably

Wasn't vaping supposed to help you stop smoking butts?

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Mar 6 2014, 11:40pm
Image: Lindsay Fox/Flickr

E-cigarettes are either the best or the worst thing ever to happened to the War on Smoking, depending on who you ask and which health study you happen to be reading. Today, it's the latter, as a new large study found that vaping makes adolescents more likely to start or continue smoking tobacco, and less likely to manage to quit.

That's after surveying 40,000 middle and high school students, first in 2011 and then again in 2012 to follow up. Researchers at the University of California San Francisco parsed the data and published their grim results in the journal JAMA Pediatrics today.

Highly publicized research claiming that e-smoking gets teenagers addicted to cigarettes deals a tough blow to e-cig advocates, who strongly believe that puffing on vaporized liquid is a healthier choice than inhaling burning tobacco, and that making the switch from analog to digital cigs can help wean smokers off the habit.

Which leads us to an interesting stat buried in the e-cig horror story today’s research tells. The study found a positive correlation between using e-cigarettes and planning to quit smoking. In other words, it seems teens weren't just vaping because it's the new hot trend (though there's some truth to that; e-cig use doubled overall over the course of the study), but rather for their controversial use as a smoking-cessation tool.

As usual, there are a couple caveats. One, vaping technology has changed a lot since 2011, when, take my word for it, e-cigarettes tasted pretty nasty, not an appealing alternative to the pack of American Spirits tempting you from your back pocket. Two, the study found that a main reason for e-cigarettes led to traditional smoking was that teens were getting hooked on the nicotine in the vaporized e-juice, but nicotine-free e-liquid is an increasingly common option to avoid this.

Still, the salient point is that these are teenagers we're talking about. Their habits aren't indicative of all vape culture—or of normal people in any capacity generally speaking. Yet unlike vices like alcohol and traditional smokes, e-cigs are not yet regulated by the FDA and thus sold and marketed freely to kids.

Clearly, middle-schoolers puffing on nicotine-infused vaporizers isn’t something anyone is going to get excited about, and I’m sure even staunch defenders of e-smoking would agree. As far as adults are concerned, the jury is still out, and the debate is heating up. Is there's a health benefit to electronic cigarettes or is the outlook equally bleak? Another day, another study.