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CDC Says Many Try E-cigs to Quit

A comprehensive CDC study hints that many are trying to use e-cigs as a tool to quit traditional cigarettes, though the devices remain controversial.

Mark Blinch/Reuters

According to a CDC report issued Saturday, electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) are strongly associated with attempts to quit regular smoking.

E-cigs are battery-powered inhalation devices that typically deliver nicotine and/or flavored vapor in the form of an aerosol. Several studies have suggested a recent rapid increase in e-cig use, but this report provides the first usage estimates that are wholly representative of U.S. adults across multiple demographics. The data was collected by the 2014 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) across more than 36,000 participants and found that 12.6 percent of adults had tried e-cigs at least once, and that the devices have current-use rates of 3.7 percent.

More than a fifth of adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have tried e-cigs, with trial rates at 21.6 percent. This trial rate decreased with age, dropping off to 3.7 percent for the age group over 65. Men were more likely to have tried e-cigs than women, the trial rates being 14.2 percent and 11.2 percent, respectively.

The numbers for daily and “some days” usage stayed close to the overall current usage rate of 3.7 percent across all demographics. There was one group that particularly stood out with a high rate of usage, those who identified as “Non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native,” whose e-cig usage was reported at 10.7 percent.

While e-cigs have been marketed as a means to quit smoking conventional cigarettes, there’s been a distinct lack of studies supporting this claim. Additionally, critics are concerned that use of e-cigarettes will act as a gateway to actual smoking of traditional tobacco cigarettes. Unfortunately the survey data collected can’t be used specifically to address either of these claims, though the data is suggestive in some ways.

Survey participants were sorted into four categories: current tobacco smokers, specifically those who have smoked 100 cigarettes in their lifetime and currently smoke every day or some days; smokers who quit less than a year ago; smokers who quit more than a year ago; and those who’d never been smokers.

Unsurprisingly, people of the first two groups were far more likely to use e-cigs than the other two groups. Current cigarette smokers had a usage rate of 15.9 percent and smokers who had quit less than a year ago had a rate of 22.0 percent, compared to the low rates of people who had quit smoking over a year ago (2.3 percent) and those who have never smoked (0.4 percent).

That nearly a quarter of this second group, smokers who quit less than a year ago, are current e-cig users shows that e-cigs, such people either (a) smoked both e- and traditional cigarettes and just stopped the latter, or else (b) picked up electronic smoking as a means to try quitting traditional cigarettes.

The study also found that current cigarette smokers who tried to quit in the last year were more likely to use e-cigs (20.3 percent) than those who had not tried to quit (11.8 percent). These last two conclusions suggest that people take up e-cigs to try and quit smoking, rather than simply doing both anyway and trying to give up traditional cigarettes.