Physicians' Counseling of Adolescents Regarding E-Cigarette Use

J Adolesc Health. 2015 Dec;57(6):580-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2015.06.017. Epub 2015 Aug 19.


Purpose: Electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) use now surpasses the use of conventional cigarettes among U.S. adolescents. Given the important role of physicians in preventing adolescent risk behaviors, we sought to understand how physicians communicate about e-cigarettes when counseling adolescent patients and their parents. We also explored physicians' support for regulations aimed at discouraging adolescents' e-cigarette use.

Methods: A national U.S. sample of 776 pediatricians and family medicine physicians who provide primary care to adolescent patients completed an online survey in Spring 2014.

Results: Many physicians (41%) would, if asked, tell their patients that e-cigarettes are less harmful than cigarettes, and a substantial minority (24%) would recommend e-cigarettes to adolescents for smoking cessation. Most physicians reported routinely screening adolescent patients for cigarette smoking but few routinely screened for e-cigarette use (86% vs. 14%; p < .001). Routine counseling was similarly more common for avoiding cigarette smoking than for avoiding e-cigarette use (79% vs. 18%; p < .001). Support for government regulation of e-cigarettes was high, with 91% of physicians endorsing policies that prevent minors from buying e-cigarettes.

Conclusions: Physicians infrequently screen or counsel their adolescent patients about e-cigarette use, although e-cigarettes often come up during visits. Additional efforts by physicians could help prevent future use by adolescents. Recommending e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation aid to adolescent patients is inadvisable given the lack of evidence for efficacy in that population. As federal regulation of e-cigarettes remains in limbo, pediatricians and family medicine physicians can offer a powerful voice for informing regulations aimed at reducing use by adolescents.

Keywords: Adolescents; Cigarette smoking; Counseling; E-cigarettes; Electronic cigarettes; Prevention; Tobacco products.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Medicine
  • Communication
  • Counseling*
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States