A new study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health reveals something many electronic cigarette users already know — electronic cigarettes don’t appeal to youth. The study surveyed 228 adolescent males and found that only 2 had even tried electronic cigarettes and both were regular smokers. Despite this evidence, the researchers still made dramatic efforts to warn against what they considered a dangerous new nicotine gateway.
Read the complete study here.
Still, this research is promising for the industry. Electronic cigarettes don’t appeal to adolescent males — a group more likely to experiment than a drunk co-ed at an all girls school. This is a demographic that thrives on the statement “Watch me do this!” And yet, electronic cigarettes are something they simply aren’t interested in. It seems that if they’re going to do it, they’ll go with the real thing. Fire and smoke is just cooler than a rechargeable battery.
The study focuses in on the teens that say they’d be willing to try electronic cigarettes (a misleadingly stated 18%). They use this as evidence that electronic cigarettes are ensnaring our youth and providing a gateway to a lifetime of nicotine addiction. First, the evidence already shows that kids that try electronic cigarettes have already been ensnared by the real thing, so blaming electronic cigarettes is hardly appropriate. This is like blaming violent video games for making someone do something terrible when they started beating animals with sticks before they were potty trained.
The study surveyed 228 males between the age of 11 and 19. The average age was 15.1 and 21 of the subjects (9%) were smokers. There was some parental involvement in the survey to correlate regional, social, and economic factors and to ensure the minors’ consent could be given. This certainly raises questions as to just how honest the subjects were however. If I learned anything in my teen years, it was that it’s never safe to admit wrong-doing, no matter how unlikely you think it is that your parents will hear about it.
According to the survey, only two subjects had ever tried electronic cigarettes and both were regular users of tobacco cigarettes. The responses from these two were excluded from subsequent statistics and analysis because science, I guess. From the report: “Only 2 of 228 adolescents (< 1%) had previously tried an e-cigarette. Both of these participants also smoked regular cigarettes. We excluded these two adolescents from subsequent analyses.”
The rest of the research is largely a study in awareness and willingness to try electronic cigarettes. Researchers found that 152 (67%) respondents were already aware of electronic cigarettes and that 41 (18%) of the total would be willing to try an electronic cigarette if it was offered to them by a friend.
There’s a few things worth noting about 18% willing to try electronic cigarettes. This is 18% of the total and the way electronic cigarettes were described to the 33% of respondents that were not already aware of electronic cigarettes could have a dramatic effect on the likelihood that they might be willing to try them. Just over a quarter of the respondents that were willing to try electronic cigarettes had not previously heard of them.
Specifying that a friend offered the electronic cigarette to them seems like a more than innocuous detail that could affect the answer more than the product in question. Younger adolescents, non-smokers, and those with a negative view of smokers and smoking showed a much lower willingness to try electronic cigarettes. Finally, of the 18% that were willing to try electronic cigarettes, “…13% were willing to try a plain e-cigarette, and an additional 5% were willing to try flavored e-cigarettes or both kinds.” Surprisingly, this sounds like the existence of flavors isn’t as enticing as many individuals believe.
It’s not terribly surprising that adolescents are aware of a new product or innovation. One could argue that this is the most market-aware generation ever to exist, doing almost nothing that isn’t saturated in advertising. This could also the most disinterested generation to date — one over-saturated on stimulation and advertising-devised time-sinks (i.e. Facebook, iPhone games, reality TV, etc). Even their language is focused on sending as much information as possible at a time. I don’t mean this as a rant, merely an observation as to why high awareness but low interest in e-cig among teens might exist.
In short, adolescents may be aware of electronic cigarettes and even willing to try them, but the true culprit in the mix remains tobacco cigarettes and the continued coolness factor they exude due to adult driven marketing claiming that they aren’t cool. Kids are hip to that jive.