You have to love it when one study refutes another study’s findings. A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Southern California has found teenagers with fewer mental health issues, such as drug misuse and symptoms of depression, are more likely to turn to e-cigarettes than traditional ones. The results go against those from a study performed at the University of California, San Diego, which found people more at risk for mental illness were three times more likely to try e-cigs.

"In the past three years, there have been dramatic increases in recreational use of e-cigarettes among teens," lead author Adam Leventhal said in a statement. "Our study raises questions of whether e-cigarettes may be recruiting lower-risk teens with fewer mental health problems who might not have been interested in any nicotine or tobacco products if e-cigarettes did not exist. Electronic cigarettes could be bringing a population of lower-risk teens into nicotine use."

Leventhal and his colleagues surveyed 3,310 ninth-grade students from 10 high schools in the Los Angeles area. Questions from the survey asked about use of traditional or electronic cigarettes, anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, substance use and abuse, and traits linked to poor mental health, such as impulsivity.

Teenagers who enjoyed smoking traditional cigarettes more so then e-cigarettes were also more likely to use prescription drugs to get high, and exhibited symptoms of depression, social phobia, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other emotional issues. Teens who admitted to both smoking traditional cigarettes and vaping e-cigarettes had the poorest mental health.

"Some people have said that it doesn't matter if teens experiment with e-cigarettes because they would have experimented with regular cigarettes anyway," said Jennifer Unger, a professor of preventive medicine at Keck Medicine of USC. "This study shows that e-cigarettes are attracting a lower-risk group of teens: Those who would not ordinarily be inclined to smoke cigarettes because of the social norms against smoking. E-cigarettes are increasing the risk of disease among this low-risk group."

Researchers from USC fear that today’s teens view e-cigarettes as a less harmful, less addictive, and less odorous alternative to traditional cigarettes. Enticing flavors, like Skittles and Sweet Tarts, make them all that more attractive for children. Although smoking rates have declined among middle and high school students, e-cigarette rates have tripled from 2013 to 2014. Even though evidence suggests students who pick up vaping will eventually jump to traditional tobacco products.

"E-cigarette use could be associated with moving on to harmful, combustible forms of tobacco, such as cigarettes, cigars, and hookah," Leventhal added. "When young people start smoking early in adolescence, they are at greater risk of becoming regular tobacco users in adulthood and to becoming a victim of tobacco-related illness."

People struggling with a mental illness or a substance abuse disorder account for 44 percent of all smokers in the United States. Smoking can wreak havoc on a person’s health, especially if its coupled with a substance abuse disorder.

Source: McGovern J, Unger J, Leventhal A, et al. Teens with fewer mental health issues turn to e-cigarettes: Adolescents with moderate emotional health problems do not smoke, but they may vape, study finds." Journal of Psychiatric Research. 2015.