Tobacco use mostly begins in adolescence and young adulthood. Earlier age of initiation of cigarette smoking is associated with greater nicotine dependence and sustained tobacco use. However, data are limited on the age of initiation of non-cigarette tobacco products, and the association between using these products and nicotine dependence and progression to established use.
Combined 2014–2016 National Youth Tobacco Survey data, a nationally representative cross-sectional survey of US students in grades 6–12 yielded 19 580 respondents who reported ever using any of five tobacco products: electronic cigarettes, cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco and hookah. Analyses assessed age of reported first use of each product among ever-users, overall and by sex and race/ethnicity. Current daily use, past 30-day use, feelings of craving tobacco and time to first tobacco use after waking were assessed by age of first use.
Among ever-users, weighted median age for first use was 12.6 years for cigarettes, 13.8 years for cigars, 13.4 years for smokeless tobacco, 14.1 years for hookah and 14.1 years for e-cigarettes. First trying these tobacco products at age ≤13 years was associated with greater current use of the respective product and nicotine dependence compared with initiating use at age >13 years.
First tobacco use at age ≤13 years is associated with current daily and past 30-day use of non-cigarette tobacco products, and with the development of nicotine dependence among youth ever-users. Proven tobacco prevention interventions that reach early adolescents are important to reduce overall youth tobacco use.