The vast majority of young adults who have used electronic cigarettes believe the devices are less harmful than actual cigarettes, according to researchers at the Social Science Research Center, Mississippi State University and the Children’s Hospital Colorado, University of Colorado, Denver.

To determine how often and why young adults use e-cigarettes, researchers surveyed a random sample of 3,253 adults in September 2013. Of the participants, 88% completed the survey; 8% were young adults ages 18-24 years old, and 22% were parents.

Results of the study were published in online by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

According to investigators, participants were asked if they had heard of electronic cigarettes and if they had ever tried them. They also were asked if they currently smoke cigarettes or if they had smoked in the past.

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

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

All young adults who reported using e-cigarettes said they used devices that contained menthol or fruit-flavor compared to 65% 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% versus 58%).

“This study has two alarming findings,” said lead author Robert C. McMillen, PhD, from Mississippi State University. “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.”