Study shows shift in tobacco market towards e-cigarettes, especially among young smokers

Nov 3, 2015

A new survey on the use of tobacco products in New York State shows a change in the dynamic of the tobacco marketplace, shifting from traditional cigarette brands to newer products. It also shows that electronic cigarette use among high school students and young adults ages 18 to 24 is nearly double that of users 25 and up.

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The 2014 youth and adult tobacco report shows that that more high school students now use e-cigarettes than regular tobacco cigarettes. The information from high-school students was collected using anonymous bubble-sheets, so specific answers as to why younger users are trying products like e-cigarettes and the practice known as “vaping” is not given. Dr. Andrew Hyland, Chair of the Department of Health Behavior at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, said he’s heard many reasons that explain it.

“In particular, [young adults] say they like the flavors in e-cigarettes,” explained Hyland. “There’s two recent reports from national data showing that most kids start using tobacco with a flavored tobacco product. So flavors are a big reason. Some want to just experiment with them. Others say that it’s safer than smoking cigarettes.”

The exact numbers show that 10.5 percent of high school students and 12.7 percent of young adults (ages 18-24) use e-cigarettes. Amongst users 25 and older, the rate is 6.5 percent.

The data that is most concerning to health professionals like Hyland is that more than 50 percent of young adults who smoke are using both cigarettes and their electronic substitutes. It’s known as “dual use,” and it’s a trend that leaves a significant question unanswered.

“What’s not clear is if dual use is a step towards greater nicotine dependence or if it’s just a transitional phase where kids are trying different products, and then over time they’ll put one down, they’ll put them both down,” said Hyland.

Hyland said from his experience, it’s likely that some of both is happening. He said to understand the problem requires prospective studies that follow young users over time.

According to the Tobacco-Free Erie-Niagara Coalition, dual use reinforces addiction and exposes the brain to more nicotine that can disrupt developing cognitive abilities at key periods in life.

In Hyland’s view, the report did not bring all bad news. He said the standout storyline of the report was that cigarette smoking is at its lowest level since tobacco use began being surveyed. Hyland attributes the low to efforts by New York State’s, such as high cigarette tax rates, bans on indoor smoking at public places, and cessation support services.

“As time is changing and companies are diversifying and getting into some of these other products, I think some of the lessons learned from our cigarette control efforts may be able to be applied to some of these other products, particularly the ones that are combusted, the ones that burn,” said Hyland.

Hyland said whatever the outcome of future anti-smoking efforts and studies, there is a need to be vigilant about current trends.