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When It Comes to E-Cigarettes, U.S. Adults Have Far Less Interest Than Teens

Teens may prefer electronic cigarettes to regular cigarettes, but the same is not true for their parents. A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that 12.6% of U.S. adults have tried an e-cigarette at least once, and 3.7% use them on a regular basis.

That’s far less than the 15.2% of American adults who smoke traditional cigarettes. It’s also well below the 13.4% of high school students who currently use of e-cigarettes.

The new figures, based on data from the 2014 National Health Interview Survey, offer the first comprehensive look at the popularity of electronic cigarettes among U.S. adults. The battery-powered devices vaporize a flavored nicotine solution that can be inhaled like a tobacco cigarette.

Public health experts worry that the largely unregulated devices will get teens hooked on nicotine, increasing the odds that they will become tobacco smokers. But many adults who already smoke have turned to e-cigarettes to wean themselves off regular cigarettes. Some studies offer support for the idea of using e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation device.

The new CDC data reveal that for adults, e-cigarettes are indeed much more popular among current smokers and recent former smokers than among nonsmokers and people who haven’t smoked in years.

Nearly half — 48% — of current smokers told interviewers they had tried an electronic cigarette, and 16% of them continued to use them. Acceptance was even higher among those who quit smoking in the last year: 55% had tried an e-cigarette at least once, and 22% used them regularly, according to the study.

In contrast, only 9% of longtime former smokers had tried electronic cigarettes, and 2.3% still used them. Among people who never smoked traditional cigarettes, 3.2% had tried e-cigarettes and 0.4% used them regularly.

When the researchers focused on current smokers, they found that current use of e-cigarettes was nearly twice as high among those who tried to quit in the last year (20%) than among those who had not made a recent attempt to quit (12%).

The new data also reveal that younger adults were more likely to have tried e-cigarettes than older ones. The highest rate of e-cigarette experimentation — 22% — was seen among people between the ages of 18 and 24. At the other end of the spectrum, fewer than 4% of senior citizens said they had tried vaping.

Few adults in any age group became regular e-cigarette users, the researchers found. Repeated use was reported by 5.1% of 18- to 24-year-olds, 4.7% of 25- to 44-year-olds, 3.5% of 45- to 64-year-olds, and 1.4% of those ages 65 and older.

Men (14%) were more likely than women (11%) to have tried electronic cigarettes, but both genders were about equally likely to keep using them.

White adults (15%) were more likely to have vaped at least once than were Latinos (9%), African Americans (7%) and Asian Americans (6%). However, the highest rate of experimentation (20%) was among the group labeled American Indians and Alaska Natives. A similar pattern was seen among repeat users of e-cigarettes.

Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said the most alarming number in the report was that among the youngest adults who had never smoked a regular cigarette, 9.7% had tried electronic cigarettes.

“This finding raises concerns that e-cigarettes may be introducing a generation of young nonsmokers to nicotine addiction,” he said in a statement.

The study was published Wednesday by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.

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