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E-cigarette Use Grows Whilst Smoking Declines, New Study

22nd April 2015

An encouraging trend, says University of Buffalo professor of community health and health behavior, Lynn Kozlowski...

See the University press release here.

Reports are circulating that teenage experimentation with e-cigarettes continues to grow in the US. Studies in other countries haven't so far shown such a trend. Is this a cause for concern? Ultimately, nicotine is not good for teenagers, it acts differently to a developing teenage brain than in adults, because young brains are rapidly 'myelinating', a process whereby long distance connections in the brain are wrapped in an insulating fatty sheath called myelin, which improves coordination and signalling between brain regions. Nicotine, an anti-inflammatory compound, some evidence indicates may disrupt this process causing abnormal wiring. In adults this is less of a problem and some research suggests that nicotine's anti-inflammatory action is potentially beneficial in older people, and may even enhance myelination in that age group. So, yes, we should restrict nicotine use in those with immature brains on current evidence, as a precaution.

However, there is two sides to this. It seems the e-cigarette use in teens is already amongst those who are trying other drugs and tobacco smoking, or already using these products, rather than those avoiding these other options. So there is less of an issue here since tobacco use is already giving nicotine to e-cig users, but also many toxins which include harmful brain effects. If the e-cigarette was a genuine 'gateway drug' to smoking normal cigarettes, that WOULD be a particularly serious issue, but the evidence is at present, going in the other direction - tobacco use is falling dramatically. So it's a mixed blessing in this age group and not very clear, besides restricting all nicotine product availability to minors, what should be done.