“Monitoring the Future,” the long-running study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan, had mostly good news to share with the release of the data from their 2014 survey.
This survey, an annual occurrence since 1975, asks between 40,000 and 50,000 teenagers about their drug use habits in the past 12 months. The 2014 study found that
fewer teens were drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, abusing prescription drugs and using regular or synthetic marijuana than in 2013.
Teen’s Rise Of E-Cigarette Use
However, one potential area of concern is electronic cigarettes. E-cigarette use has grown rapidly in the past few years, and in 2014 e-cigarette use surpassed cigarette smoking among teenagers for the first time.
The rise in e-cigarette use has been so significant that it has offset the equally significant drop in cigarette smoking that has been seen in recent decades. Rather than abandoning cigarettes altogether, teenagers increasingly appear to be switching from tobacco cigarettes to the electronic variety.
Teen Cigarette Switch: A Positive Sign Or Cause For Concern?
Just how concerning this cigarette switch should be is less clear. On one hand, tobacco cigarettes are a known and serious health risk. Tobacco use, of which cigarette smoking is by far the most popular kind, is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. As a result, the historic low for teenage cigarette smoking seen in 2014 has to be seen as a positive thing.
In contrast, e-cigarettes are a largely unknown factor. The products have been on the market for such a limited period of time that there are no completed studies examining the long-term risks of these cigarettes. While some studies have raised questions about potential short-term risks of e-cigarettes, the available data is still far from conclusive.
Some people have been quick to embrace e-cigarettes, believing that they are safer than tobacco cigarettes and perhaps even a valuable tool for helping people to quit tobacco products. Other people are very concerned by the quick rise of these products, arguing that the public should be cautious until studies can confirm—or contradict—the belief that they are relatively safe.
Whatever the true dangers of e-cigarettes may turn out to be, the Michigan study found that most teenagers see them as harmless. Only 15 percent of the eighth graders in the survey said that they believed regular e-cigarette use could be harmful, compared to 62 percent of eighth graders who believe smoking a pack of cigarettes a day is harmful.
The Risks Of Exposing Teens To Addiction
There are major questions when it comes to e-cigarettes and teenagers. One major concern is that e-cigarettes deliver nicotine and are just as addictive as traditional cigarettes. Exposing teens early on to addictive substances, no matter how benign, puts them at greater risk for future addiction. No matter how much safer e-cigarettes might be, health experts would still prefer that teenagers were abandoning rather than switching addictive products.
Many people are also concerned that e-cigarettes will serve as a gateway to tobacco cigarettes and other tobacco products once teenagers are hooked on nicotine. There is little data to suggest that this will be the case, but nicotine is so addictive that some users may turn to other products when e-cigarettes are not available.
With all the questions still to be answered concerning electronic cigarettes, one thing that seems certain given their popularity among both teens and adults is that e-cigarettes are not going anywhere anytime soon.
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