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More kids e-lighting up

  • A sales associate demonstrates the use of a electronic cigarette and the smoke like vapor that comes from it in this 2011 file photo. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

ATLANTA — Children — like adults — are increasingly trying electronic cigarettes, according to the first large national study to gauge use by middle and high school students.

About 2 percent of the students said they'd used an e-cigarette in the previous month, according to a survey done last year. That was up from 1 percent in 2011.

More kids still smoke traditional cigarettes than the new electronic ones, and it's not clear how dangerous e-cigarettes are. It's also not clear from the report how many are using them on a daily or weekly basis.

But health officials are worried. The new study suggests many kids are now getting a first taste of nicotine through e-cigarettes and then moving on to regular tobacco products, they say.

Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices that provide users with aerosol puffs that typically contain nicotine, and sometimes flavorings like fruit, mint or chocolate. They've often been described as a less dangerous alternative to regular cigarettes.

Unlike conventional smokes, the federal government does not yet regulate e-cigarettes, although more than 20 states have banned store sales to minors. The devices began to appear in the United States in late 2006, but marketing has exploded in the last couple of years.

The new study — released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — is based on a questionnaire filled out by nearly 19,000 students in grades 6 through 12 in 2011 and another 25,000 in 2012.

In 2011, about 3 percent said they'd tried an e-cigarette at least once. That rose to 7 percent last year and translates to nearly 1.8 million students.

In contrast, 6 percent of adults have tried e-cigarettes, according to a different CDC survey done in 2011.

Children still are more likely to light up regular cigarettes, though teen smoking rates have dropped in the past decade. More teens now smoke marijuana than tobacco, surveys have found.

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