A new study published Wednesday morning in JAMA Network Open makes it even more difficult for vaping companies to shake their heads and deny that their flavored products are an on-ramp for young, fresh, lifelong customers. Researchers looked at whether people are more likely to continue using tobacco products if their first experience with them is with something that’s flavored. As many might reasonably guess, their analysis shows that people who are introduced to tobacco via flavored stuff are more likely to have continued using tobacco later on, and with more frequency.
Researchers analyzed the data by breaking self-reported responses from a nationally representative survey on tobacco use into two waves: one from September 2013–December 2014; the second from October 2014–October 2015. Across the board, if a person’s first tobacco experience involved something flavored (whether it be a menthol cigarette, hookah, or an e-cig), they were more likely to report continued tobacco use later on.
Flavors were particularly attractive to people between age 12–25: Researchers found they were more likely to be initially drawn to flavored products than older adults. People seemed to be less drawn to flavored tobacco as they got older. The study also showed that people who started out with flavored e-cigs weren’t just likely to keep using them, but upped their frequency as they got older.
None of this is particularly surprising. In the study discussion, researchers even note that their findings are in line with what tobacco companies have known: Flavors are not only attractive to people who’ve never used regular tobacco products, but they’re also more likely to get people hooked. Notably, this study predates the JUUL Age (JUUL became the most popular vape product in late 2017) and what the CDC started referring to as a youth “epidemic” earlier this year, when data showed more than one in four high schoolers reported using vaping products in the past 30 days.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Hannah Smothers on Twitter.