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More and more teens who wouldn't have smoked are now using e-cigarettes

It’s out of the frying pan and into the fire when it comes to the battle against teen smoking. According to the latest report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, not only are e-cigarettes growing increasingly popular among teenagers, but they’re also pulling adolescents who otherwise would not have used tobacco products under their influence.

Teen e-cigarette use is on the rise, halting overall decline in nicotine useWhile Monday’s report notes that smoking among young Southern Californians is on the decline overall, the combined use of e-cigarette and cigarette use “was substantially greater than before e-cigarettes became available.” This, experts say, begs the question as to whether e-cigarettes are providing an alternative to a bad habit, or actually convincing more youths to adopt the practice.

This is by no means the first time that e-cigarettes have come under scrutiny for their influence among younger generations. Two years ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported e-cigarettes as the most popular tobacco product used by middle and high school students, logging around 2 million users in the demographic. Cigarette use has dropped over the last few years, but other tobacco products have quickly taken over — both e-cigarettes and hookahs are more prevalent than ever.

“Kids are not just using e-cigarettes instead of cigarettes. That is what we were frankly hoping to find,” Jessica Barrington-Trimis, the lead author of the study told The New York Times. Not only are the teenagers who were already expected to be smoking using the devices, she said, “There is a whole group of kids using e-cigarettes on top of that.” And the real problem, the study suggests, is that the majority of users seem to be using nicotine-infused liquid in their e-cigarettes, abolishing the notion that this is somehow a more “healthful” or less-addictive alternative.

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Dr. Jonathan Winickoff, professor of pediatrics at MassGeneral Hospital for Children and Harvard Medical School, authored an accompanying paper in the journal Pediatrics, and lamented to the Times, “We had a trend of decreasing nicotine use. What the e-cigarette has done is halted that decrease in its tracks … We don’t want a fifth of our high school students graduating with nicotine addiction.”

And of course, the greatest fear of all is that e-cigarettes are simply a gateway back to traditional tobacco products. “Once kids get hooked on e-cigarettes, they are more likely to go on to become cigarette smokers,” said Stanton A. Glantz, director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco.