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CDC: Current, former smokers biggest users of electronic cigarettes

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released the first nationally representative estimates of electronic cigarette use among U.S. adults, finding that more than 12 percent had ever tried the aerosol nicotine products in 2014. So, as is the unfortunate case with many emerging and potential public health threats, it seems like e-cigarette use is outpacing the ability of regulatory bodies to protect the public’s health and educate consumers about possible risks.

The new data is from CDC’s National Health Interview Survey, which first began collecting data on e-cigarette use in 2014. According to the data, in 2014, men were more likely than women to have tried e-cigarettes, but not as likely to be current users. Younger adults were more likely than older adults to be current e-cigarette smokers, while American Indian, Alaska Native and white adults were more likely than black, Asian and Hispanic adults to have ever tried e-cigarettes or be current users.

Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, e-cigarette use was highest among current cigarette smokers and those who had recently quit conventional cigarettes. Overall, nearly one in 10 adults ages 18-24 who had never tried a conventional cigarette had tried an e-cigarette. (This is worrisome because after decades of hard work on the part of public health workers to reduce smoking rates and prevent tobacco-related death, there is real concern that electronic cigarettes may drive more people toward trying conventional cigarettes and eventually getting hooked.) The new data also revealed that among current cigarette smokers who had tried to quit in the past year, more than 50 percent had ever tried an e-cigarette and more than 20 percent were current e-cigarette users. E-cigarettes are often marketed as a smoking cessation product, however the jury is still out on whether they’re effective cessation tools and whether e-cigarettes are actually a safer alternative.

In reference to this particular finding — which points to current and former cigarette smokers being the majority of e-cigarettes users — Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said: “This does not tell us whether e-cigarettes are effective at helping cigarette smokers quit. But it does point out the importance of FDA regulation to determine whether e-cigarettes are effective at helping cigarette smokers quit and, equally important, to provide cigarette smokers accurate information about which e-cigarettes are most effective at doing so.”

The CDC survey also found that more than 20 percent of adults ages 18 to 24 had ever tried an e-cigarette, with such use declining as survey respondents got older. About 3.7 percent of adults currently used e-cigarettes every day or some days, with current e-cigarette use among American Indian and Alaska Native adults at more than 10 percent. More than 4 percent of white adults reported current e-cigarette use, as did just more than 2 percent of Hispanic adults, 1.8 percent of black adults and 1.5 percent of Asian adults. Among current cigarette smokers, about one in six — as well as nearly one in four former smokers who recently quit — currently used e-cigarettes. In comparison, just more than 2 percent of long-term former smokers and less than 1 percent of adults who had never smoked cigarettes currently used e-cigarettes.

“If there is a public health benefit to the emergence of e-cigarettes, it will come only if they are effective at helping smokers stop using cigarettes completely and if they are marketed so they do not re-glamorize smoking among young people,” Myers said. “Effective FDA oversight is critical to achieving these goals.”

Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent its final rule for regulating electronic cigarettes to the White House for review.

To read the new data in full, visit the CDC National Center for Health Statistics.

Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for more than a decade.