A new University of Southern California study shows that teenagers with moderate mental health problems who may not have considered smoking traditional cigarettes are now using electronic cigarettes.

According to lead author of the study Adam Leventhal, mental health and behavioral problems, such as alcohol and drug abuse, are documented risk factors for smoking, but for teens who use e-cigarettes the situation is different. The study surveyed 3,310 ninth grade students in 10 high schools in the Los Angeles area.

The students answered questions about conventional or e-cigarette use, depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, substance use and abuse, and traits are linked to poor mental health. The results of the study showed that surveyed teens who began using these devices had emotional and behavioral problems that fell midway between smokers and teens who neither vaped nor smoked. Adolescents who both vaped and smoked had the poorest mental health, according to the study.

Teens who used prescription drugs to get high and those with more symptoms of social phobia, depression, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorders, and other emotional issues were more likely to smoke than to use e-cigarettes. A Medical Xpress news report notes that this is the first time researchers identified mental and behavioral conditions associated with e-cigarette-only use as well as dual use of both traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes.

The Medical Xpress news report notes that successful public campaigns have made smoking cigarettes less socially acceptable and successfully deterred the majority of young people from smoking, especially lower-risk teens without mental health and behavioral problems, but the same cannot be said about vaping.

“Some people have said that it doesn’t matter if teens experiment with e-cigarettes because they would have experimented with regular cigarettes anyway,” said Jennifer Unger, study co-author and professor of preventive medicine at Keck Medicine of USC. “This study shows that e-cigarettes are attracting a lower-risk group of teens: Those who would not ordinarily be inclined to smoke cigarettes because of the social norms against smoking. E-cigarettes are increasing the risk of disease among this low-risk group.”

“In the past three years, there have been dramatic increases in recreational use of e-cigarettes among teens,” Leventhal said. “Our study raises questions of whether e-cigarettes may be recruiting lower-risk teens with fewer mental health problems who might not have been interested in any nicotine or tobacco products if e-cigarettes did not exist. Electronic cigarettes could be bringing a population of lower-risk teens into nicotine use.”

Source: Medical Xpress