Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME
By Alexandra Sifferlin
October 28, 2015
TIME Health
For more, visit TIME Health.

Close to 13% of American adults have tried an e-cigarette, according to new federal data published Wednesday by the the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics. They also found that more than half of current cigarette smokers who tried quitting in the last year had tried an e-cigarette. Around 20% of those people said they were current e-cigarette smokers.

“In light of ongoing declines in conventional cigarette smoking prevalence, it is important to understand the extent to which e-cigarettes are being used among U.S. adults, both overall and by conventional cigarette smoking status,” the report authors write. E-cigarettes have been advertised as an alternative to conventional cigarettes and as a quitting tool for some people.

Use of e-cigarettes declined with age and overall about 3.7% of adults in the U.S. currently used them.

The researchers also found that use of e-cigs in 2014 was highest among people who were current smokers or were recently former smokers.

“One of the main findings is that a majority of e-cigarette use is among those who recently quit smoking,” says Dr. Avrum Spira, an e-cigarette researcher at Boston University. “That reflects a potential, albeit yet unproven, benefit of the e-cigarette product in terms of helping smokers switch to a potentially “safer”—not “safe” as we know little about consequence on exposure—product.” Spira was not involved in the study.

The researchers found that overall, the percentage of people who had never smoked regular cigarettes but had tried e-cigarettes was 3.2%. The highest among that group were people between ages 18–24 at 9.7%.

“That is a very high percentage and raises concern that young people are starting this product not as an attempt to quit smoking but rather as a new behavior,” says Spira. “Given that we do not yet know the health consequences of e-cigarettes and many of them contain nicotine which can be addictive, it is concerning that such a large fraction are starting to use this product.”

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