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Nicotine Tob Res. 2019 Nov 4. pii: ntz157. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntz157. [Epub ahead of print]

The Relationship Between Electronic Cigarette Use and Conventional Cigarette Smoking Is Largely Attributable to Shared Risk Factors.

Kim S1, Selya AS1,2,3.

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Department of Population Health, School of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND.
Behavioral Sciences Group, Sanford Research, Sioux Falls, SD.
Department of Pediatrics, Sanford School of Medicine, University of South Dakota, Sioux Falls, SD.



The growing popularity of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) among youth raises concerns about possible causal effects on conventional cigarette smoking. However, past research remains inconclusive due to heavy confounding between cigarette and e-cigarette use. This study uses propensity score methods to robustly adjust for shared risk in estimating the relationship between e-cigarette use and conventional smoking.


Cross-sectional data from 8th and 10th graders were drawn from the 2015-2016 waves of Monitoring the Future (n = 12 421). The effects of (1) lifetime and (2) current e-cigarette use on (A) lifetime and (B) current conventional cigarette smoking were examined using logistic regression analyses with inverse propensity weighting based on 14 associated risk factors.


After accounting for the propensity for using e-cigarettes based on 14 risk factors, both lifetime and current e-cigarette use significantly increased the risk of ever smoking a conventional cigarette (OR = 2.49, 95% CI = 1.77 to 3.51; OR = 2.32, 95% CI = 1.66 to 3.25, respectively). However, lifetime (OR = 2.17, 95% CI = 0.62 to 7.63) and current e-cigarette use (OR = 0.95, 95% CI = 0.55 to 1.63) did not significantly increase the risk of current conventional cigarette smoking.


E-cigarette use does not appear to be associated with current, continued smoking. Instead, the apparent relationship between e-cigarette use and current conventional smoking is fully explained by shared risk factors, thus failing to support claims that e-cigarettes have a causal effect on concurrent conventional smoking among youth. E-cigarette use has a remaining association with lifetime cigarette smoking after propensity score adjustment; however, future research is needed to determine whether this is a causal relationship or merely reflects unmeasured confounding.


This study examines the relationship between e-cigarette use and conventional smoking using inverse propensity score weighting, an innovative statistical method that produces less-biased results in the presence of heavy confounding. Our findings show that the apparent relationship between e-cigarette use and current cigarette smoking is entirely attributable to shared risk factors for tobacco use. However, e-cigarette use is associated with lifetime cigarette smoking, though further research is needed to determine whether this is a causal relationship or merely reflects unaccounted-for confounding. Propensity score weighting produced significantly weaker effect estimations compared to conventional regression control.


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