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Social acceptance of e-cigarettes is on the rise, and that may be a problem

Smoking is cool again, and it’s all thanks to peer pressure. At least, when it comes to e-cigarette use, the growing popularity of the devices has now been vastly attributed to the “cool factor” that comes along with seeing friends and families taking a drag from one of these battery-powered devices. According to a new study published online in Pediatrics, the generally “favorable social perceptions” of electronic cigarettes may “contribute to the renormalization of tobacco products generally,” which spells trouble for health officials (and everyone else) across the United States.

According to Jessica L. Barrington-Trimis, a Keck School of Medicine postdoctoral researcher and lead author of the new study, “Adolescents who have three or four of their closest friends who used e-cigarettes were 104 times as likely than those with no friends who currently used e-cigarettes, to be a current e-cigarette user themselves.” This “very strong finding” has been corroborated by the spike in electronic cigarette use in the last few years. The most recent National Youth Tobacco Survey found that the use of these devices, first introduced in China in 2004 and then to the United States in 2007, tripled from 4.5 to 13.4 percent between 2013 and 2014.

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While traditional cigarette use hasn’t seen a particularly strong resurgence (yet), some are concerned that the newfound popularity of the electronic version may resuscitate the social acceptance of what is now widely regarded a public health risk. Speaking to Today, New York Assembly member Linda Rosenthal, who sponsored a bill that would prohibit e-cigarette usage in public spaces, said, “It took so many years to make smoking not acceptable. E-cigarettes are undoing years of work by the advocates to make the act ‘uncool.'”

And while there has been plenty of awareness raised around the potential dangers associated with cigarette use, the same cannot be said for e-cigarettes. In fact, whereas only 1 percent of teens surveyed thought traditional cigarettes were not harmful, 14 percent thought that e-cigarettes were totally fine health-wise. Of course, much of this is due to the fact that there is a distinct lack of research around the effects of e-cigarettes — while nicotine is known to affect developing brains, little information has been broadcast about possible associated health risks.

Regardless, the study findings certainly reinforce the notion that children and teens are largely impacted by the actions of their friends and families. So at the very least, if you’re not a fan of the e-cigarette usage, you may want to ensure that both your kids and their friends are on the same page.