Age limits on e-cigarettes cause uptick in cigarette smoking among pregnant teens

Thursday, Jan 26, 2017
by B. Rose Kelly

While laws placing age limits on the purchasing of e-cigarettes are intended to reduce the use of tobacco products, a recent study shows an unintended consequence: a rise in traditional cigarette smoking among pregnant teens. 

But the uptick in cigarette smoking did not produce negative birth outcomes, according to research by Princeton University and Cornell University, who analyzed more than 500,000 births among teenagers in the United States.

Published as a working paper in the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), the research shows a 19.2 percent increase in cigarette smoking among pregnant teenagers – both of age and underage – and a 13.8 percent increase among underage pregnant teens following the enactment of minimum legal sale ages for electronic nicotine delivery systems.

Every state already has age limits on traditional cigarette sales, and if these limits were perfectly enforced, there would be no possibility for substitution between e-cigarettes and the traditional variety. Therefore, the findings suggest that limits on e-cigarettes are more binding on minors and that teens often substitute one source of nicotine for the other.

“Traditional cigarette use typically declines during pregnancy, but our results show that laws limiting access to e-cigarettes actually slows down this decline, presumably because women are prevented from switching to e-cigarettes,” said co-author Janet M. Currie, Henry Putnam Professor of Economics and Public Affairs and chair of the Department of Economics at Princeton. “The figures suggest that pregnant women have an especially high demand for smoking cessation products early in their pregnancies. Hopefully, in future, we will be able to offer something that is better for their babies than e-cigarettes.”

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