Association between electronic cigarette use and tobacco cigarette smoking initiation in adolescents: a systematic review and meta-analysis

BMC Public Health. 2021 Jun 3;21(1):954. doi: 10.1186/s12889-021-10935-1.


Background: This systematic review of prospective longitudinal primary studies sought to determine whether electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) use by teenagers who had never smoked conventional tobacco cigarettes (tobacco cigarettes) at baseline was associated with subsequently commencing tobacco cigarette smoking.

Methods: The review followed the principles of a systematic review and meta-analysis. A key word search identified peer-reviewed articles published between 1 January 2005 and 2 October 2019 from seven bibliographic databases and one search engine. Using pre-prepared inclusion/exclusion criteria two researchers independently screened abstracts, and subsequently, full text papers. Selected articles were quality assessed in duplicate. Data on study participants characteristics, exposure and outcome measures were recorded in an adapted Cochrane Data Extraction Form. Feasibility assessment was done to detect clinical heterogeneity and choose an approach to meta-analysis. Analysis comprised pairwise random effects meta-analyses, and sensitivity and subgroup analyses.

Results: From the 6619 studies identified, 14 one-off primary studies in 21 articles were suitable for inclusion. The participants ages ranged from 13 to 19 years and comprised teenagers based in Europe and North America. Nine of the 14 one-off studies, with follow-up periods between 4 and 24 months, met the criteria for inclusion in a meta-analysis of the association between ever use of e-cigarettes and subsequent initiation of tobacco cigarette use. Based on primary study adjusted odds ratios, our meta-analysis calculated a 4.06 (95% confidence interval (CI): 3.00-5.48, I2 68%, 9 primary studies) times higher odds of commencing tobacco cigarette smoking for teenagers who had ever used e-cigarettes at baseline, though the odds ratio were marginally lower (to 3.71 times odds, 95%CI: 2.83-4. 86, I2 35%, 4 primary studies) when only the four high-quality studies were analysed.

Conclusion: The systematic review found that e-cigarette use was associated with commencement of tobacco cigarette smoking among teenagers in Europe and North America, identifying an important health-related harm. Given the availability and usage of e-cigarettes, this study provides added support for urgent response by policymakers to stop their use by teenagers to decrease direct harms in this susceptible population group, as well as to conserve achievements in diminishing tobacco cigarette initiation.

Keywords: Adolescents; Electronic cigarette use; Smoking; Tobacco cigarette initiation; Vaping.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cigarette Smoking*
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems*
  • Europe
  • Humans
  • North America
  • Prospective Studies
  • Tobacco
  • Tobacco Products*
  • Vaping*
  • Young Adult