Teenagers whose parents are smokers are 55% more likely to try e-cigarettes, according to research presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress in Barcelona, Spain.
In a large study of Irish teenagers, the researchers have also found that the proportion who have tried e-cigarettes has been increasing dramatically and that although boys are more likely to use e-cigarettes, the rate of use among girls in increasing more rapidly.
It also found that the percentage who have tried vaping is rising dramatically. Boys are still more likely than girls to do so, but the number of girls who have smoked is growing.
"These findings are worrying, not just for teenagers in Ireland, but for families all around the world," said Dr. Jonathan Grigg, head of the Tobacco Control Committee of the European Respiratory Society (ERS).
"From a 2015 Columbia University study, we saw evidence that if mom or dad is a smoker, their teenager is much more likely to become a smoker, too. This study suggests that teenagers are also influenced by smoking parents to start using e-cigarettes and become addicted to nicotine," he said in a society news release.
Grigg, who was not involved in the research, said the work indicates that teenagers are increasingly trying e-cigarettes and not as a smoking cessation aid.
“This is important because we know that e-cigarettes are not harmless," Grigg said. "The effects of nicotine addiction are well-established, and we are discovering that e-cigarettes can harm the lungs, blood vessels and brain. We need to do more to protect children and teenagers from these harms."
Between 2014 and 2019, the percentage who had tried vaping rose from 23% to 39%, the data showed.
About 66% of those who tried vaping said they did so out of curiosity; about 29% said their friends vape. Only 3% said they used e-cigarettes to quit traditional cigarettes.
About 68% said they had never used tobacco when they first tried vaping, up from 32% in 2015.
“We have found increasing use of e-cigarettes in Irish teenagers and that’s a pattern that is emerging elsewhere in the world," said Luke Clancy, director of TobaccoFree Research Institute Ireland in Dublin, which did the study.
"There’s a perception that vaping is a better alternative to smoking, but our research shows that this doesn’t apply to teenagers who usually haven’t tried cigarettes prior to e-cigarettes," Clancy said. "This indicates that, for teens, vaping is a route into nicotine addiction, rather than out of it."
The researchers also looked in detail at data on more than 3,400 16-year-olds to see if boys' and girls' use of tobacco and e-cigarettes differed.
About 39% of girls had tried e-cigarettes in 2019 compared to 23% in 2015, the study found. And the number who said they were currently vaping rose to 18% in 2019, up from about 10% in 2015.
Especially for boys, having friends who smoke and having less parental monitoring were major factors in e-cigarette use.
"We can see that parents and friends have an influence on teenagers' decisions to try e-cigarettes and that's important because these are factors that we can try to change," said doctoral researcher Salome Sunday, also from the Institute.
The researchers are calling on governments to enact anti-vaping laws to protect young people.