Youths who vape are more likely to light up.
That’s the conclusion reached by UCSF researchers, who found that using any form of tobacco — including electronic cigarettes, chewing tobacco, water pipes and snuff — makes a teenager more likely to get hooked on conventional cigarettes.
“Teens who experimented with tobacco in any form were at greater risk of future smoking,” said senior author Benjamin Chaffee, a UCSF dentistry professor and one of those who conducted the study of 10,384 youths ages 12 to 17 who were nonsmokers at the outset of the research.
The authors said their study was the first to investigate whether using all forms of non-cigarette tobacco leads to smoking cigarettes. Clearly, they said, it does.
After a year, 4.6 percent of the youths in the survey had smoked cigarettes. Those who had tried a non-cigarette alternative were more than twice as likely to have smoked a cigarette within the previous month as those who had not tried e-cigarettes or other smokeless tobacco products, the UCSF study said.
Trying more than one alternative increased the odds of becoming a regular cigarette smoker, the researchers said. And all the alternatives — vaporizers, cigars, water pipes, chewing tobacco — were equally likely to lead to cigarettes, the study found.
The study, published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s online Pediatrics magazine, runs counter to the message of the e-cigarette industry, which touts electronic vaporizers as a safer alternative to cigarettes. A vaporizer, or “vape,” allows a user to inhale a mixture of liquid nicotine and water vapor instead of cigarette smoke.
At Gone With the Smoke, an e-cigarette store near Union Square in San Francisco, customers stand at the tasting bar where, for $1, they can sample such nicotine flavors as bubble gum, milk and honey, apple pancake custard and dozens of others designed for young palates. A thick cloud of vapor enveloped the store Tuesday.
Saleswoman Jenny Park said blaming e-cigarettes for hooking children on regular cigarettes wasn’t fair.
“There could be lots of reasons why people smoke,” she said. “Peer pressure. Friends. Parents. There are so many factors.”
Chaffee called for tighter federal regulation of liquid nicotine, including a ban on flavors and raising the legal age for purchase to 21. The researcher said the e-cigarette industry is using the same arguments — flavor, satisfaction, safety — that the tobacco industry used half a century ago to turn young people into users.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted last year to ban the sale of e-cigarettes, menthol cigarettes, and fruit- and candy-tinctured tobacco products. Tobacco firms led by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. fought back, sponsoring a petition drive that gathered nearly double the number of required signatures to put the ban on the ballot. The city’s voters will get their say on the matter in June.
A spokesman for Let’s Be Real San Francisco, a tobacco-industry-funded group that supported the petition drive, noted that California already bans the sale of e-cigarette products to people under 21. The group “is fighting the city’s attempt to ban adult consumer choices,” said the spokesman, Kevin Keane.
“Many consider vaping to be the most successful and widely accessible tool to help adults transition away from smoking,” Keane said.
Chaffee, the UCSF researcher, said e-cigarettes are helping to reverse a 20-year decline in cigarette use and are “contributing to the rising popularity of cigarettes.”
“In the last few years, research has focused on the potential of e-cigarettes to engage never-smoking adolescents in tobacco use,” Chaffee said. “Our findings confirm that the use of the full range of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, cigars, tobacco water pipes, and smokeless tobacco, is associated with greater odds of future cigarette smoking.”
The study found that 90 percent of adult smokers tried their first cigarette by age 18. In 2016, nearly 4 million middle and high school students said they used tobacco.
Steve Rubenstein/San Francisco Chronicle