E-Cigarettes Are Harmless, Say 1 in 5
Young Adults

Nick Mulcahy

September 26, 2019

One in five (20%) US young adults known as Generation Z (ages 18-22) believes e-cigarettes are "harmless" and, among slightly older Millennials (ages 22-38), the percentage who believe the same is even higher — 24%, according to a new national survey.

Notably, the survey was conducted between July 9 and August 10, which predates the recent widespread news coverage about vaping-related deaths in the United States.

The new findings are from the American Society of Clinical Oncology's third annual National Cancer Opinion Survey. The ASCO survey was performed online by The Harris Poll among 4000 Americans ranging from 18 years to 73+ years.

Roughly 1 in 5 of young adults uses e-cigarettes regularly (ie, daily or recreationally), the survey indicated, referring to both Gen Z and millennials.

On the other hand, only 5% of Baby Boomers (ages 55-72) were regular users and only 1% of the Silent Generation (ages 73+) reporting using e-cigarettes.

"We should do everything in our power to prevent a generation of young people from becoming addicted to nicotine, regardless of how it is delivered," said Howard "Skip" Burris III, MD, president of ASCO and chief medical officer at the Sarah Cannon Research Institute, Nashville, Tennessee, in a press statement.

On August 17, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and CDC began investigating deaths from severe respiratory illness associated with e-cigarette use. Since then, in addition to major media coverage, there have been announcements at the state and federal levels about banning the sale of flavored e-cigarettes and flavored vaping products.  

In the ASCO survey, more than a quarter of young adults (27% of Generation Z and 29% of Millennials) had the misconception that flavored e-cigarettes are less damaging to your health than nonflavored e-cigarettes.

"These beliefs among young adults about e-cigarettes parallel early misperceptions about tobacco products," said Burris. "Education is crucial to correcting misinformation and preventing what could become a public health crisis."

The new survey also included data on Americans under age 18, as the survey addressed questions to participants who identified as parents.

One in six adults (17%) with children ages 9 to 17 say their children have tried e-cigarettes; also, 7% of parents with children in that age range said their child uses the products regularly.

E-Cigarettes to Quit Tobacco?

Overall, 1 in 8 Americans (12.5%) in the survey reported using e-cigarettes regularly.

Notably, 80% of that group currently smoke or have smoked traditional cigarettes in the past. 

The majority of those smokers says they have used e-cigarettes to decrease their use of traditional cigarettes (44%) or to quit smoking altogether (41%). 

"There is no doubt that quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health. If you are trying to quit, we recommend talking to your doctor about methods that are proven to work," said ASCO Chief Medical Officer Richard L. Schilsky, MD.

However, Schilsky did not endorse using e-cigarettes or vaping as a bridge to smoking cessation. "No e-cigarette products are currently approved by the FDA as cessation aids," he stressed, "and more research to understand these products, the substances in them, and the acute and long-term effects of their use is urgently needed."

Full survey findings are available online.

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