Exposure to E-Cigarettes, Tobacco Advertising And Social Media Push Teens To Smoke: Study

Teens with more exposure to tobacco advertising or friends who smoke are more likely to take up the addictive habit by the time they are 17 years old, according to a new study.

In findings published this month in the medical journal Pediatrics, researchers indicate that curiosity about smoking, being receptive to trying cigarettes, seeing tobacco-related social media advertisements and experimenting with vaping all increase a teens likelihood of not only tying cigarettes, but becoming established smokers.

Researchers used data from the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health Study, which included four waves of data from 2013 to 2018. About 13,000 teens were included in the study, including nearly 9,000 who indicated that they had never tried smoking, not even one or two puffs.

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Other studies published in recent years have pointed to e-cigarettes increasing the likelihood teens will try smoking tobacco cigarettes, leading to widespread concerns about the increasing popularity of the products, as vaping became the most popular form of tobacco use among teens over the past decade.

These new findings reinforce these concerns, measuring a teens susceptibility to using cigarettes by assessing four items: openness to curiosity, wanting to try soon, wanting to try in the next year, and if a best friend offered they would try.

Of the teens who had never smoked, 16% became experimental smokers, having tried cigarettes on at least one occasion; 7.6% became current smokers, having smoked in the past 30 days; and 1.8% became established smokers, defined as using more than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime.

Black and Latino teens were less likely to experiment. Teens who said they were open to three or four susceptibility items were more likely to become experimental, current smokers, or established smokers by the end of the study period.

Of those that said they might smoke in the next year, 40% became experimental smokers, 20% became current users and 5% became established smokers.

Teens who were considered susceptible to smoking based on the survey were nearly twice as likely to smoke compared to non-susceptible teens.

Researchers also measured susceptibility to smoking based on exposure to tobacco marketing. Exposure to advertisements, using tobacco-related apps, seeing social media content posted about tobacco, and ever use of electronic cigarettes also predicted experimental smoking.

More than half of teens said they saw content posted about tobacco products on social media or having used a tobacco-related app. Teens who participated in online activity were more likely to become established smokers.

In recent years, the makers of JUUL e-cigarettes have come under fire for aggressive social media and advertising tactics geared toward teens. Although many teens believe vaping is safer, JUUL e-cigarettes were designed to be as addictive as Marlboro cigarettes in order to hook another generation of users on both vaping and traditional cigarettes.

More than one-third of teens in this new study said they participated in tobacco sweepstakes, and 20% said they received coupons or information from a tobacco company. These teens were more likely to become experimental smokers and current smokers by the end of the study.

Research indicates smoking experimentation, including vaping use, among teens by the age of 18 leads to becoming an established cigarette user for 90% of adult smokers.

“Smoking susceptibility and exposure to tobacco industry–related marketing were predictive of cigarette smoking,” wrote study authors. “Clinicians should consider screening adolescents for smoking susceptibility and tobacco-related media exposure.”

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