The number of adults trying e-cigarettes for the first time is increasing, but less are making a habit of using the electronic nicotine delivery systems, according to a research letter published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Looking at data from the National Health Interview Survey, public health researchers from Iowa and Guangzhou, China, analyzed answers from a nationally representative survey on patterns of e-cigarette use.
They found that the number of people who said they ever used an e-cigarette rose to 15.9 percent in 2016 from 12.6 percent in 2014. This trend was stable across all groups, including age, sex, race/ethnicity, income and cigarette smoking.
But a follow-up question, if people currently use e-cigarettes, measured a decline in responses, from 3.7 percent in 2014 to 3.2 percent in 2016, representing less than eight million people.
“These trends may suggest that some individuals are trying but not continuing use of e-cigarettes,” the authors wrote and that more research is needed.
Around 36 million Americans smoke combustible cigarettes, which has stagnated between 2015 and 2016 after years of unprecedented decline.
E-cigarettes, which came on the market in the early 2000s, are cautiously embraced by health officials today, who say they provide a potential benefit to adult smokers who completely switch.
Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the use, claiming the lives of 480,000 people annually and with more than 16 million Americans living with a tobacco-related disease.
However, researchers are concerned over an increase in e-cigarette use among adults who never smoked cigarettes, from 3.2 percent in 2014 to 5.7 percent in 2016. While less harmful than traditional cigarettes, scientists are still trying to evaluate the full health effects of e-cigarettes.
The process of heating flavored juice does emit certain chemicals and known carcinogens, albeit at much lower levels than traditional cigarettes. Nicotine exposure, however, promotes a number of health risks including heart, lung and gastrointestinal disorders, decreased immune response, and impacts on reproductive health, to name a few.
“The observed increase in both ever and current e-cigarette use among never smokers is concerning, because these never smokers were being exposed to nicotine and other harmful ingredients,” the authors wrote.
The allure of e-cigarettes among never-smokers is chief among health officials concern in how it relates to teen smoking, who are afraid smoking e-cigarettes with nicotine will harm the developing brain and will make it more likely for youth to initiate combustible cigarette smoking.
However, the researchers highlight emerging data showing a decline in e-cigarette use among youth in 2016, suggesting that popularity could be waning after years of increase.