Vaping teens cite low cost, flavours for why they tried e-cigarettes

Young people try electronic cigarettes out of curiosity about the devices and alluring flavours that range from cotton candy to pizza, but keep vaping because of their low cost, according to a new study.

Only 6% of those surveyed tried e-cigarettes to quit smoking, but about 80% of them continued to vape

Brian Jung vapes an electronic cigarette. Youngsters who tried vaping to quit smoking were more likely to keep using e-cigarettes months later, U.S. researchers found. (Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times/Getty)
Young people try electronic cigarettes out of curiosity about the devices and alluring flavours that range from cotton candy to pizza, but keep vaping because of their low cost, according to a new study.

The report published in the medical journal Pediatrics on Monday found that some of the reasons prompting teenagers to try the battery-operated devices, which heat liquids typically laced with nicotine to deliver vapour, help to predict ongoing use.

The most likely draws are the cost, which is much lower than for combustible cigarettes, and ability to vape in places where smoking may be banned, according to the study led by Yale School of Medicine professors. Costs can vary widely, depending on the brand and cigarette taxes, but savings can add up to thousands of dollars a year for the average smoker, according to various vaping industry estimates.

The ongoing Connecticut-based study was based on surveys in two middle schools and three high schools in the fall of 2013 and spring of 2014. About 340 of the 2,100 students surveyed had used e-cigarettes.

Youngsters who tried vaping to quit smoking were more likely to keep using e-cigarettes months later, the study found. Only about 6 per cent of those surveyed tried e-cigarettes for that purpose, but about 80 per cent of this group stuck with the devices.

Younger vapers more likely to continue

More than half the youngsters said they tried the devices because they were curious, 41.8 per cent cited "good flavours" and almost a third because their friends used them. About a quarter said vaping was healthier than traditional cigarettes.

"The younger the kids were when they started, the more likely they were to keep using them," said Krysten W. Bold, a postdoctoral fellow at the Yale School of Medicine and one of the authors of the report.

The researchers said they hoped policymakers would use the findings to address the growing popularity of the devices, which have prompted warnings about their potential health risks.

"If we could identify early who would still be using e-cigs six months from now, we could intervene at that early stage," Bold said.

In June, Canadian researchers who studied 230 students in Grade 9 in Ontario who use e-cigarettes also found that 75 per cent did not use them for their intended use: to help kick nicotine addiction. 

In Canada, e-cigarettes and "e-juice" containing nicotine have not been approved for sale. 

Since the study was conducted, most provinces have created legislation around the sale and marketing of e-cigarettes. 

Meanwhile, the e-cigarette market in the U.S. is suddenly getting more crowded.

Makers of the "vaping" devices launched a flood of new products in the United States ahead of new federal regulations, taking effect on Monday, that require companies to submit e-cigarettes for government approval before marketing them, according to company officials and industry experts.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which announced the regulations in May, will allow e-cigarette devices introduced before the regulations came into force to be sold for up to three years while companies apply and await regulatory review.

The U.S. regulations also ban the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under age 18. The multibillion-dollar industry had sought to delay the new rules through lawsuits and proposed legislation in the U.S. Congress. At the same time, many of the smaller players hedged their bets by releasing new products during the three-month period between the announcement of the regulations and their effective date.

With files from Reuters and CBC News