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In fact, the researchers found that teens who used e-cigarettes, also known as "vaping," when the study began were about three times more likely to have started smoking a year later than students who had never vaped.
"This suggests that e-cigarette use among adolescents is not without behavioral costs," wrote Dr. Thomas Wills, from the Prevention and Control Program at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center, in Honolulu. "These findings should be considered for policy discussions about the availability of e-cigarettes to adolescents."
Restricting young people's access to e-cigarettes could have health benefits, the researchers suggested.
While this study found an association between e-cigarette use and starting to smoke tobacco cigarettes, it wasn't designed to prove a cause-and-effect link between those behaviors.
The findings were published online Jan. 25 in the journal Tobacco Control.
For the study, researchers surveyed more than 2,300 high school freshmen and sophomores in Hawaii about their vaping and smoking habits in 2013. They repeated the teen surveys one year later. The teens were an average of 15 years old.
The teens reported how often they used e-cigarettes and cigarettes. They were also asked about their home life, including their parents' level of education and their tendency to be rebellious.
Overall, 31 percent of the teens used e-cigarettes at the time of the first survey. One year later, 38 percent had tried vaping. In 2014, 21 percent of the teens had smoked at least one cigarette up from about 15 percent in 2013, the study revealed.
Nearly all the teens surveyed in 2013 had heard of e-cigarettes. More than two-thirds of these students viewed vaping as healthier than smoking. Of nonusers of either product in 2013, one in 10 tried vaping by 2014 and 2 percent tried smoking cigarettes. Fewer than 4 percent had tried both, according to the survey.
The researchers also found that any use of e-cigarettes in 2013 was linked to trying smoking one through four times by 2014.
The study also showed that e-cigarettes didn't help those who smoked when the study began to reduce their habit.
The teens who moved on to cigarettes or smoked and vaped by 2014 were generally older, white or Native Hawaiian and exhibited more rebelliousness. On the other hand, those with more family support and education were less likely to transition from e-cigarettes to smoking.
-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
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SOURCE: BMJ, news release, January 25, 2016