A study recently published in the journal, Nicotine & Tobacco Research, is helping dispel the common misconception that e-cigarettes, especially their flavors, are going to attract non-smoking teenager users. Many critics of vaping have often claimed that e-cigarettes are a danger to youth and adolescents, believing that the devices and their appealing flavors would draw teenagers into a dangerous nicotine addiction. The study, however, appears to be proving that this fear is untrue and unfounded.
Researchers for this study surveyed 216 non-smoking teenagers, age 13 to 17, and a total of 432 adult smokers of traditional tobacco cigarettes. They questioned the participants about their interest in a variety of potential e-cigarette flavors. Those surveyed in the study were asked to rate their interest on a scale of 0 to 10 regarding their desire to use e-cigarettes as well as a sampling of commonly purchased flavors.
Saul Shiffman is a professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh and the lead author on this study. “Flavors just didn’t seem to matter to these non-smoking teens,” said Shiffman of the survey results. It was among adult smokers of old-fashioned, tobacco cigarettes, that the interest in e-cigarette flavors was greatest, specifically those who had recently used e-cigarettes. Their interest was followed by those who had vaped in the past and then by those who had never used at all. All of the adult users, even the ones who had never vaped, still however much more interest than any of the non-smoking teens. While recent, adult e-cigarette users were the main group that demonstrated interest, the flavors tested such as vanilla bean, double espresso and raspberry held no appeal to the non-smoking teens.
Shiffman is optimistic that results like these will enable e-cigarettes to be used for their potential benefits, rather than being overregulated and, as a result, restricted simply due to a preconception that is based on assumption rather than fact. “Concerns about initiation of e-cigarette use by nonsmoking teens have focused on the expected and assumed appeal of flavors. It is important to replace assumptions with data.” Shiffman’s findings are a good indicator of the reality, not the assumptions, of the appeal and attraction of the e-cigarette to the youth population. “Our study shows that flavor descriptors, even those expected to appeal to youth, do not do so.” Shiffman continues, “This is reassuring because nonsmoking teens would gain no health benefit from using e-cigarettes since they don’t smoke. In contrast, adult smokers could dramatically reduce health risks by switching from tobacco cigarette smoking to e-cigarette use.”
These findings are encouraging, as other recent studies seem to be focusing on the rise of e-cigarette use among teens and adolescents. The Center for Disease Control recently released a statement on the findings of their annual youth smoking survey. Their study suggested that 4.5% of high school aged teenagers had used an e-cigarette product at some point within the last month; a figure that was up from 1.5% in 2011. Findings like these have only fueled the fire for critics of e-cigarette devices who believe that they are attracting new youth users with child-friendly flavors like bubble gum or gummy bear.
What critics fail to realize, however, is that while e-cigarette use among teens is up, use of regular cigarettes among teens is down. Of course, that could just be a coincidence. In addition, with sales of e-cigarettes growing at a rate of approximately 25% each year, and this growth rate expected to continue until 2018, the use is clearly up among adults as well. It is only natural that the teen population would mimic similar behavior as that of the adult world too. Believing that the hike in youth e-cigarette use is due to the flavors would simply be a short-sighted analysis of the facts at hand.
As new research regarding e-cigarettes seems to be released daily, it is important to remain aware of the true facts and not fall prey to convenient interpretations of them. The recent survey is another great example of how with more research we can get to the bottom of what really draws people to e-cigarettes.
However most vapers don’t need a scientific study, they already know why they pick up their e-cigarettes to get their nicotine satisfaction and you can be sure the health benefit is always one of the main reasons. Everyone knows how much safer e-cigarettes are than traditional smoke and tar laden cigarettes. That being said no one wants anyone to start vaping just to start vaping. While there are non-nicotine vaping options, the reality is what e-cigarettes really offer is a healthier way to receive nicotine than combustible tobacco, straight and simple. That is what makes someone decide to become a vaper, not coconut or cotton candy flavors.
Dr. Shiffman agrees that e-cigarettes have their advantages: “For adult smokers of combustible tobacco cigarettes, switching completely to e-cigarettes should lead to substantial health benefits.” That is why Dr. Shiffman believes we should continue to conduct these surveys, to ensure that there are not flavors that are available that do for some reason appeal to the youth population, “Knowledge about which flavors appeal most to adult smokers without appealing to nonsmoking teens presents an opportunity to greatly reduce health risks among adult smokers without increasing the risks for youth.”
It seems like there is little attraction for non-smokers to pick up vaping, no matter what sugar-coated flavor you wrap around it. The sooner the critics realize this, the sooner it will be obvious to them what vapers already know: e-cigarettes are not a gateway into an addiction, they are are a way out.