CINCINNATI - The health risks of e-cigarettes are still unclear, yet a new survey finds the nicotine products are growing in popularity in Ohio.
In data released by Interact for Health, about half of young adults surveyed said they had tried an e-cigarette, as did nearly 30 percent of adults. That's up from about 19 percent of adults in 2016.
President and CEO of the Cincinnati-based foundation Dr. O'dell Moreno Owens adds that research on the correlation between e-cigarette use and smoking status is still evolving.
"If you simply ask the current smokers, 'Have you ever tried e-cigarettes?', 67 percent said yes; former smokers, only 26 percent admitted to ever using the e-cigarette; and for people who never smoked 13 percent have used e-cigarettes," he notes.
Some contend that e-cigarettes are safer than regular cigarettes because they do not contain the toxins inhaled from tobacco smoke. But Owens says he doesn't buy that argument because they still contain nicotine, which is addictive, and other chemicals that could cause lung damage.
Owens notes 41 percent of all diseases are associated with smoking tobacco cigarettes, and there are concerns that e-cigarettes could be a gateway.
"For some people, it's part of that social scene, part of that coolness about smoking with the misconception that e-cigarettes is not harmful, but once people get into that pattern and want more nicotine, then they have to go to stronger tobacco products," he explains.
Owens says most smokers begin by the age of 18, and people who have never smoked before the age of 25 are much less likely to start. And he contends a higher tax on e-cigarettes and raising the legal smoking age to 21 are important youth tobacco prevention measures.
"So if we can get that age to 21 and get that individual time to become an adult and understand more about life and their health, they might make better choices," he says.
The poll also found six-in-ten Ohio adults are in favor of taxing e-cigarettes at a rate similar to the tax on tobacco cigarettes.