Many young parents are using electronic cigarettes, and despite any evidence for safety, the vast majority of young adults who have used the devices believe they are less harmful than regular cigarettes, researchers said.
E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid nicotine solution. The user inhales the vapour created and ingests the nicotine. Some e-cigarettes are flavoured, and some have been found to contain toxic chemicals.
E-cigarettes are marketed as an option to help smokers kick the habit. They also are portrayed as sexy, fun devices for young adults, researchers said.
To determine how often and why young adults use e-cigarettes, researchers surveyed a random sample of 3,253 adults in September 2013.
Eighty-eight per cent completed the survey. Eight per cent were young adults ages 18-24 years old, and 22 per cent were parents.
Results showed that 13 per cent of parents had tried electronic cigarettes, and 6 per cent reported using the devices in the past 30 days.
In addition, 45 per cent of parents who had tried electronic cigarettes and 49 per cent who reported using them in the past 30 days had never smoked regular cigarettes, or were former smokers.
Parents reported several reasons for using electronic cigarettes: 81 per cent said e-cigarettes might be less harmful than cigarettes to people around them; 76 per cent said e-cigarettes are more acceptable to non-tobacco users; and 72 per cent said they could use the devices in places where smoking cigarettes isn't allowed.
All young adults who reported using e-cigarettes said they used devices that contained menthol or fruit flavour compared to 65 per cent of adults ages 25 and older.
Young adults also were less likely than older adults to use e-cigarettes to help them quit smoking (7 per cent vs 58 per cent).
"This study has two alarming findings," said lead author Robert C McMillen, coordinator, Tobacco Control Unit, Department of Psychology, Mississippi State University.
"First, the risks of e-cigarette use and exposure to vapour are unknown, yet many parents report using these electronic cigarettes to reduce harm to others. Second, half of current users are nonsmokers, suggesting that unlike tobacco harm-reduction products, e-cigarettes contribute to primary nicotine addiction and to renormalisation of smoking behaviours," said McMillen.
The research was presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Vancouver, Canada.