Are e-cigarettes harmful? It's probably the wrong question. Caffeine is quite toxic but the Centers for Disease Control doesn't promote concern about Red Bull energy drinks. What is known to be harmful, the weight of evidence is indisputable, are cigarettes. With 200 toxic chemicals being inhaled into lungs, they are linked to every form of cancer and disease for good reason.

Smoking remains, as the non-profit consumer advocacy group the American Council on Science and Health has long phrased it, a pediatric disease. If kids don't take it up at a young age, they won't. Yet kids rebel, they experiment, and so a concern about e-cigarettes (also called vaping) has been that they might be a gateway to the harmful tobacco, cigarettes. Right now, "nicotine naive" e-cigarette users, those who never tried cigarettes but took up vaping, is small. But if their popularity grows, the worry is that they may migrate to cigarettes.

Studies show that is unlike. To the vaping community, smoking is just as abnormal as it is to people who have never tried either. And it shows in other ways. A new paper in Tobacco Control finds that the nicotine, the addictive chemical that keeps people smoking, is barely a factor among young people who try vaping. They prefer flavors.

With no addictive component, there is no addiction. With no addiction, it is a harmless pastime, like a pipe or a cigar. The findings call into question the designation of e-cigarettes as Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) and suggest that the recent spike in the popularity of e-cigarettes among this age group doesn't signal a 'nicotine epidemic' as feared, conclude the researchers.

It is widely assumed that teen vapers are vaping nicotine, so in a bid to find out exactly what substances they are vaping, the researchers quizzed almost 15,000 students about their vaping experiences as part the 2015 Monitoring the Future Survey--an annual, nationally representative study of 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students. Some 3837 of the students had vaped at some point, and of those who had vaped within the past month, 1701 had done so at least once; 1085 had done so up to five times; and 616 had done so more than half a dozen times.

Among those who had ever vaped "just flavoring" was by far the most commonly vaped substance at last use for around two thirds of students across all three grades. This answer was more common than all the others combined. Vaping of nicotine came in a distant second, with one in five (20%) 10th graders, a similar proportion (22%) of 12th graders, and 13% of 8th graders, giving this answer. 

Vaping of marijuana was reported by just a few respondents--6% to 7% of students in all grades, while the remainder either did not know what they had last vaped (6%, 7%, and 14% in grades 8, 10, and 12, respectively) or had vaped some other substance (1% or less in each grade).

Messages aimed at curbing vaporizer and e-cigarette use among young people may not be successful if they focus on the dangers of nicotine, given that most teens who vape do not believe they are using nicotine, say the researchers. Efforts to ban the sale of vaporizers and e-cigarettes to teens on the grounds that these devices always intrinsically deliver harmful substances may not be backed up by the evidence, they caution, suggesting that other approaches may be more effective. 

Finally, the widely-used, technical term "ENDS" may be inappropriate to describe e-cigarettes and other vaporiser devices among teens if most of those who vape are actually using them for other substances, they say.

"These results indicate that while taking into account vaporize use does indeed increase tobacco/nicotine prevalence, the impact of vaporizers is likely not as large as might appear by their recent, dramatic increase in use among adolescents," write the researchers. "Because many US youth who use vaporizers do not vape nicotine, they are candidates for primary interventions, which are particularly strategic to combat nicotine use, because they take place before the need to address nicotine's addictive properties."