Among youth, the frequency and prevalence of using more than one tobacco (small cigar, cigarette, and hookah) or nicotine-containing product (e-cigarettes-ENDS) are changing. These shifts pose challenges for regulation, intervention, and prevention campaigns because of scant longitudinal data on the stability of use patterns in this changing product landscape.
A nationally representative longitudinal survey of 15- to 21-year olds (n = 15,275) was used to describe transitions between never use, noncurrent use, and past 30-day use of combustible tobacco, e-cigarettes (ENDS), and dual use of both kinds of products. A multistate model was fit to observations collected every 6 months across 2.5 years to estimate the probability of transitions between states (TPs), the average time in state (sojourn time), and the effect of age on transitions.
Current state strongly predicted future state over time intervals of 1 year or less, but only weakly predicted future state at longer intervals: TP to noncurrent use was higher for ENDS-only than combustible-only users over a 6-month interval but was similar for both groups over a 2-year interval. Sojourn time was significantly longer for combustible-only (0.52 years) and dual use (0.55 years) than ENDS-only use (0.27 years); older youth were more likely than younger youth to stay combustible tobacco users or noncurrent users.
The dynamics of transitions between combustible tobacco products and ENDS in a population of youth and young adults suggest that policy and prevention efforts must consider the frequent changes and instability over a 1-year or less time period in use patterns among young people.
The study addresses an urgent need in public health for timely information on how youth and young adults use tobacco and nicotine products. We found that youth, particularly adolescents, moved frequently between using ENDS and combustible tobacco products either alone or together. Importantly, the utility of current-use states for predicting future use states declined for time horizons longer than 1 year. Our results demonstrate a need for caution in interpreting product transitions. Longitudinal data with frequent observations and coverage of a wide range of possible product types is required to fully characterize usage patterns in youth.