Researchers at the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work have found that young people who smoke e-cigarettes are more likely to become regular cigarette smokers.

The study, published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, confirms concerns that e-cigarettes can be a gateway to traditional cigarette smoking. The study found that young people who were using e-cigarettes were five times more likely to be regular cigarette smokers a year later. Led by Wasim Maziak, professor in the Department of Epidemiology; Zoran Bursac, chair of the Department of Biostatistics; and Olatokunbo Osibogun, post-doctoral associate in the Department of Epidemiology—the study found e-cigarette users who transitioned to regular cigarettes were also more likely to have “robust transitions,” rather than experimentation.

“This is important, as prior research about this issue was repeatedly criticized for representing experimentation and product-switching rather than e-cigarettes being a gateway to regular cigarette smoking,” Maziak said.

The analysis of young people, 12 to 17 years old, was based on data from the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health Study conducted from 2013 to 2016.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), e-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco product among U.S. youth, with an estimated 1 in 3 high school students and 1 in 20 middle school students currently using e-cigarettes.

The results of the Stempel study suggest that promoting e-cigarettes as a way to reduce the harm caused by tobacco will likely contribute to youth cigarette smoking, the researchers said.

“Our results show the need to regulate e-cigarettes in order to reduce the negative impact of its use on our young population,” concluded Osibogun.