High School Seniors Who Used E-Cigarettes May Have Otherwise Been Cigarette Smokers: Evidence From Monitoring the Future (United States, 2009-2018)

Nicotine Tob Res. 2021 Oct 7;23(11):1958-1961. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntab102.


Introduction: Studies have indicated that youth who use e-cigarettes are more likely to progress to cigarette smoking; however, the likelihood that these youth would have used tobacco products in the pre-vaping era is unclear.

Aims and methods: This study sought to determine whether youth who used e-cigarettes in 2014-2018 would have likely been smokers in the period preceding e-cigarette availability. Analyzing Monitoring the Future 12th grade data (United States, 2009-2018), we forecasted the prevalence of current smoking with logistic regression-derived propensity scores. Models predicted smoking for all subsequent years, incorporating sociodemographic, family, alcohol, and school-related variables, and a linear time trend. We compared forecasted to observed smoking prevalence annually, and prevalence of current e-cigarette use among nonsmokers across smoking propensity tertiles.

Results: Until 2014, observed smoking prevalence mirrored forecasted prevalence. Afterward, forecasted rates consistently overestimated prevalence. Among nonsmoking youth, e-cigarette use was lowest among those with lowest predicted probability of cigarette smoking (3.8%; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 3.3, 4.4) and highest among those with highest probability (23.5%; 95% CI: 22.2, 24.9).

Conclusions: Youth e-cigarette use has increased rapidly, with high prevalence among nonsmoking youth. However, the decline in current smoking among 12th graders has accelerated since e-cigarettes have become available. E-cigarette use is largely concentrated among youth who share characteristics with smokers of the pre-vaping era, suggesting e-cigarettes may have replaced cigarette smoking.

Implications: Among nonsmoking youth, vaping is largely concentrated among those who would have likely smoked prior to the introduction of e-cigarettes, and the introduction of e-cigarettes has coincided with an acceleration in the decline in youth smoking rates. E-cigarettes may be an important tool for population-level harm reduction, even considering their impact on youth.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems*
  • Humans
  • Schools
  • Smokers
  • Tobacco Products*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Vaping*