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Teens Now Reach For E-Cigarettes Over Regular Ones


A study of the lives of American teenagers tells us this - more of them use electronic cigarettes than smoke traditional cigarettes.


That's just one of the findings from a big annual survey out of the University of Michigan. Here's another - the use of synthetic drugs is on the decline among U.S. teens. We'll hear how one city worked to curb the abuse of one of those synthetic drugs, bath salts, in just a moment.

BLOCK: First, NPR health correspondent Rob Stein reports on the survey's findings about e-cigarettes, which come amid an intense debate about the devices.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: E-cigarettes look a lot like regular cigarettes, but instead of burning tobacco they heat up a liquid containing nicotine, creating a vapor that people inhale. And according to the survey, they're more popular among teenagers than anyone thought. Richard Miech of the University of Michigan says nearly 9 percent of eighth graders and more than 16 percent of 10th graders had used an e-cigarette in the past month.

RICHARD MIECH: We found that among eighth and 10th graders, more than twice as many reported using an e-cigarette than a regular tobacco cigarette. And among 12th graders, we find in the past 30 days about 17 percent had reported using an e-cigarette, whereas only 14 percent had reported using a regular tobacco cigarette.

STEIN: The results come from a federally-funded survey of more than 41,000 students at more than 370 schools around the country.

MIECH: This is the first national study to show that among teens, e-cigarettes are now - have higher use than regular tobacco cigarettes. These results show that e-cigarettes have become the nicotine delivery device of choice among today's teens.

STEIN: Public health experts say the results are worrying for lots of reasons. Even though e-cigarettes may be safer than regular cigarettes, they still may cause health problems. And they worry e-cigarettes could hook a new generation on nicotine, increasing the chances they'll start using regular cigarettes, as well as other drugs.

Nora Volkow heads the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

NORA VOLKOW: These may in turn influence the patterns of other drug use because the research has shown that exposure to nicotine enhances the rewarding effects of other drugs. So they're concerned that in turn, it may serve as a so-called gateway drug.

STEIN: The companies that make e-cigarettes agree that teenagers shouldn't be using the devices, which is known as vaping. But Gregory Conley of the American Vaping Association says there is one bright spot. He thinks e-cigarettes have helped drive teen smoking rates to record lows.

GREGORY CONLEY: What I think is happening is that you have teens who would smoke, if e-cigarettes were not available on the market. And instead of smoking, they are turning to vapor products.

STEIN: Public health experts dispute that argument, though. They say there's evidence e-cigarettes are being used by the kinds of kids who don't usually smoke regular cigarettes.

Rob Stein, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Stein is a correspondent and senior editor on NPR's science desk.