WASHINGTON — E-cigarette use continued to rise among young teenagers and preteens in the United States last year, according to new federal data, but cigarette smoking overall did not increase, suggesting that, at least so far, fears that the devices would hook a new generation on traditional cigarettes have not come to pass.
Experts said it was too soon to answer the essential question about e-cigarettes: Will they cause more or fewer people to smoke. But the broad trend in youth cigarette smoking has been down in recent years, and researchers have been taking note of that.
"We do not have any strong evidence that it is encouraging smoking among kids but neither do we have good evidence that it won't over time," said Kenneth E. Warner, a professor of public health at the University of Michigan.
About 5 percent of middle school students reported using e-cigarettes in 2015, up from about 4 percent in 2014, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is a substantial increase from 2011, when fewer than 1 percent of middle schoolers used the devices.
Use for high school students was also trending up, with 16 percent reporting using the devices in 2015, up from 13 percent in 2014, however the change was not statistically significant because of technical reasons having to do with the sizes and distributions of the samples. In 2011, the rate was just 1.5 percent for high schoolers.
Policymakers have worried that increased e-cigarette use could make it more likely young people would transition to traditional tobacco cigarettes, which are more toxic. But that does not seem to be happening yet. About 9 percent of high schoolers reported smoking cigarettes in 2015, unchanged from 2014 and down from 16 percent in 2011.