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E-cigarettes ‘ARE a gateway to smoking for young people – AND their use is linked to a greater risk of alcohol abuse’

  • College students who use e-cigarettes are more likely to smoke cigarettes
  • New study links devices to greater risk of alcohol use, experts say
  • Also found male college students are more likely to use the devices

The debate is complex, and provokes strong opinions on both sides of the scientific fence.

In one camp are those people who view e-cigarettes as a tool in the quest to quit smoking, a means by which smokers can cut down and eventually kick their habit.

Yet, a growing body of evidence is questioning that rationale.

For, studies have shown the devices act as a gateway, encouraging previous non-smokers to take up the habit.

A new piece of research appears to consolidate that theory, adding that e-cigarettes may also tempt young people into drinking alcohol and trying psychoactive substances.

The findings focus on college students, and link e-cigarette use with high rates of alcohol consumption.

Furthermore, researchers at Texas Tech University also warn the devices indicate a general propensity to use psychoactive drugs.

They note the rise of e-cigarette use ‘may be a positive consequence’ of traditional smokers who use the devices to try and quit smoking or to avoid the toxicity of cigarettes.

But, among young people, they warn of an emerging trend.

‘The current findings suggest that e-cigarettes may represent another “tool in the tool chest” among college students with a proclivity to use, and misuse, psychoactive substances.’

Researchers set out to examine e-cigarette use and the relation of such use with gender, race/ethnicity, traditional tobacco use, and heavy drinking.

They analyzed a sample of 599 college students enrolled in General Psychology at a state university, who each completed a self-report questionnaire.

The findings revealed 29 per cent of students reported prior use of e-cigarettes, with 14 per cent reporting use in the past 30 days.

Researchers noted male college students were more likely to use the devices, but noted there was no difference when the results were broken down by race or ethnicity.

Dual use – simultaneous use of both e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes – was linked to heavier smoking.

And, using nicotine was linked to pronounced rates of heavy drinking.

Of greatest concern, the researchers said, was the association found between e-cigarette use and heavy drinking.

They said: ‘Although smoke-free legislation has led to several public health benefits, the increasing popularity and presence of e-cigarettes may allow college students to circumvent these bans and more readily co-use alcohol and nicotine.

‘Several lines of evidence suggest that nicotine use enhances the reinforcing effects of alcohol use, especially among men.

‘It increases the duration of a drinking episode, and leads to higher levels of cravings for both alcohol and cigarettes when co-used with alcohol.

‘Further, alcohol and tobacoo use disorders are prospectively linked in college students.’

The results showed that e-cigarette use among college students is exponentially on the rise, and its co-use with alcohol may contribute to negative outcomes in this population.

The findings are published in the Journal of American College Health, published by Taylor & Francis.

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