Image credits: Doodle Roy.

Although electronic cigarettes may contain harmful substances many take it up because it’s considered far less harmful than smoking tobacco. That’s certainly true but that doesn’t mean vaping is a benign habit. Since e-cig cartridges contain nicotine, a highly addictive substance, users risk switching to regular cigarettes. Case in point, a new study found 12th graders who vaped were four times more likely to start smoking cigarettes within the next year compared to teens who didn’t vape.

Vape — not so safe

Electronic cigarettes are battery-operated devices that resemble traditional cigarettes. Besides nicotine, cartridges may contain flavors such as bubble gum, ice cream or even popcorn! When a user activates the e-cig, the liquid chemicals inside the cartridge become vaporized and inhaled by the smoker. The health risks of vaping aren’t clear yet as research is limited but the FDA started regulating e-cigarettes on August 8, 2016 and has not approved e-cigarettes as a way to quit smoking.

Some e-cigs produce almost as much formaldehyde as a traditional cigarette. E-cig particles have a median size of 0.18-0.27 microns, 40 percent of which can travel deep inside the lungs where they can make damage. These nanoparticles can trigger inflammation and have been linked to asthma, stroke, heart disease, and diabetes.

Direct health hazards aside, vaping can also be a gateway to smoking tobacco, according to a recent study conducted by a team from the University of Michigan.

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The researchers randomly selected 350 teens from a large survey involving 122 schools around the United States. The participants were surveyed about their smoking habits in the 12th grade and then followed up a year later.

Among teens who vaped in the 12th grade but had never tried a ‘real’ tobacco cigarette, 31 percent tried the tobacco cigarettes a year later. Only 7 percent of teens who didn’t vape or smoke in the 12 grade went on try a tobacco cigarette a year later.

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Though most teens are aware of the health risks of smoking, many believe e-cigs are harmless. However, 12th graders who vaped were four times more likely to change their views a year later, claiming smoking is ‘less risky’.

“These results contribute to the growing body of evidence supporting vaping as a one-way bridge to cigarette smoking among youth. Vaping as a risk factor for future smoking is a strong, scientifically-based rationale for restricting youth access to e-cigarettes,” the researchers conclude in the journal Tobacco Control.

Though the study limited itself to teens it’s reasonable to assume former smokers who vape could be tempted to smoke cigarettes again. Teens who used to smoke but gave up once they were in the 12th grade were twice as likely to report smoking again a year later if they vaped in high school, compared to those who didn’t vape in the 12th grade.