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May 05, 2014 03:56 PM EDT

Many Young Parents Believe E-Cigarettes Are Safer Than Tobacco

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Many young parents who use e-cigarettes believe the devices are safer for those around them, according to a recent study.

Researchers found that the vast majority of young adults who have used the electronic devices believe they are less harmful than regular cigarettes.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid nicotine solution. The user inhales the vapor created and ingests the nicotine. Some e-cigarettes are flavored, and some have been found to contain toxic

"This study has two alarming findings," Robert C. McMillen, lead author of the study and coordinator of the Tobacco Control Unit, Department of Psychology at Mississippi State University, said in a statement. "First, the risks of e-cigarette use and exposure to vapor are unknown, yet many parents report using these electronic cigarettes to reduce harm to others. Second, half of current users are nonsmokers, suggesting that unlike tobacco harm-reduction products, e-cigarettes contribute to primary nicotine addiction and to renormalization of smoking behaviors."

For the study, researchers surveyed more than 3,000 adults in 2013. Of the 88 percent who completed the survey, 8 percent were aged 18 to 24, and 22 percent of those were parents.

They found that 13 percent of parents had tried electronic cigarettes, and 6 percent reported using the devices in the past 30 days. In addition, 45 percent of parents who had tried electronic cigarettes and 49 percent who reported using them in the past 30 days had never smoked regular cigarettes, or were former smokers.

Young parents reported several reasons for using electronic cigarettes: 81 percent said e-cigarettes might be less harmful than cigarettes to people around them; 76 percent said e-cigarettes are more acceptable to non-tobacco users; and 72 percent said they could use the devices in places where smoking cigarettes isn't allowed.

Researcher said all young adults who reported using e-cigarettes said they used devices that contained menthol or fruit flavor compared to 65 percent of adults ages 25 and older. Young adults also were less likely than older adults to use e-cigarettes to help them quit smoking (7 percent vs. 58 percent).

The findings were presented May 4 at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

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