Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarette, are more likely to pull in users who wouldn’t traditionally look to smoking traditional cigarettes. Published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers surveyed 1,941 Hawaii high school students on their smoking or non-smoking behaviors.

Risk factors were collated along with the smoking survey, looking at sensation-seeking behaviors, academic involvement, parental support and smokers among their peer group.

Among the participants, 17% used e-cigarettes, 12% used both e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes, 3% smoked traditional cigarettes only, and 68% didn’t smoke. Using the risk factors, researchers found that e-cigarette users were below the normal risk threshold of a person picking up the habit.

Study authors pointed out the misconception that e-cigarettes are healthier as a driving force. “The fact that e-cigarette only users were intermediate in risk status between nonusers and dual users raises the possibility that e-cigarettes are recruiting medium-risk adolescents, who otherwise would be less susceptible to tobacco product use.”

Marketing has been central to this belief. With traditional tobacco product marketing heavily restricted, e-cigarettes have jumped into the void and market in the public places.

The jury is still out on e-cigarettes. The marketing jumped past the science, and now competing claims are being made. Experts on both sides tout research. Proponents of e-cigarettes hold on to the notion there are fewer unhealthy components when compared to traditional tobacco. E-cigarettes are trumpeted as a ‘quitting tool’ for those looking to ditch cigarettes.

On the opposite end, experts warn the devices are nothing more than a gateway to traditional tobacco, hooking users on nicotine. The use among teens is also a concern, as no research has been done on long-term health impacts.

This study is giving fuel to those concerns, grabbing teens in a medium risk pool and exposing them to nicotine products.

Regulations has been absent from the debate. The FDA only regulates e-cigarettes marketed for therapeutic purposes. A proposed rule would give the agency more oversight over devices that look and function similar to traditional cigarettes. A sales ban to minors has also been suggested.

For now, there’s too many unknowns. E-cigarettes have popped up without little to no regulation, and researchers are struggling to fill in the knowledge gaps. What are the health impacts? Do the devices lead to smoking? What are the impacts of modified devices that increase nicotine intake?

All questions that desperately need answers.

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