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How many Americans have tried e-cigarettes?

E-cigarette use has been on the rise for years, and researchers now have a better idea about how many Americans have adopted this alternative to smoking tobacco.

Nearly 13 percent of U.S. adults said they had tried electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, in 2014, according to newly released nationally representative data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People used these battery-powered devices to inhale aerosol laced with nicotine for an effect similar to smoking traditional cigarettes that’s called vaping.

According to the data, users tend to be young adults. One out of five 18-to-24-year-olds say they’ve tried e-cigarettes. By comparison, only 4 percent of people age 65 or older said they had tried the product.

18-24 year olds were more likely to try e-cigarettes

Percent of adults who have tried an e-cigarette by age

  • 18-24 years
    22%
  • 25-44 years
    17%
  • 45-64 years
    10%
  • 65 years and over
    4%

Charlotte Schoenborn, a statistician at the CDC who was one of the report’s authors, said the findings about e-cigarette use gleaned from household interview responses to the National Health Interview Survey support previous studies about the prevalence of e-cigarette use.

“Use is highest among young adults, which isn’t surprising since it’s new technology,” she said.

People who recently tried to quit smoking also were likely to say they vape, the data shows. More than half of people who attempted to stop smoking in the last year, or 55 percent, have lit up an e-cigarette and likely tried the electronic devices as an alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes, Schoenborn said. Meanwhile, nearly half of current cigarette smokers, or 47 percent, say they have tried e-cigarettes.

Current cigarette smokers were more likely to use e-cigarettes

Percent of adults who have tried an e-cigarette

  • Current cigarette smokers
    48%
  • Recent former cigarette smokers
    55%
  • Long-term former cigarette smokers (1 year or more)
    9%
  • Never smoked a cigarette
    3%

This data offers a snapshot of emerging e-cigarette use at a time when fewer people are smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes. In 2014, almost 17 percent of U.S. adults said they smoke cigarettes, according to CDC data. That’s down from nearly a quarter of adults since 1997 nationwide.

But questions linger about how safe e-cigarettes are. A chemical commonly found in the product is propylene glycol, which is generally considered safe to eat by the Food and Drug Administration. It is unclear, however, if the chemical remains safe when it is inhaled, Scientific American reported last year.

And earlier this year, researchers found high levels of formaldehyde, a carcinogen, in e-cigarettes, NBC News reported.

Researchers hope to continue to track emerging trends about e-cigarette use by asking these questions for years to come, Schoenborn said. This data serves as the first step for Schoenborn and others to do so.

“In the long term, you can look at health effects, but that’s going to be decades down the line. We’re not in a good position to do that,” she said.

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