Disentangling Within- and Between-Person Effects of Shared Risk Factors on E-cigarette and Cigarette Use Trajectories From Late Adolescence to Young Adulthood

Published in: Nicotine & Tobacco Research, nty179 (2018). doi: 10.1093/ntr/nty179

Posted on RAND.org on October 04, 2018

by Michael Stephen Dunbar, Jordan P. Davis, Anthony Rodriguez, Joan S. Tucker, Rachana Seelam, Elizabeth J. D'Amico


Longitudinal studies report associations between use of electronic cigarettes (ECs) and cigarettes over time among young people, but do not distinguish within- from between-person effects, which complicates interpretation of findings. Further, the role of shared risk factors, such as substance use and mental health, in explaining longitudinal associations between EC and cigarette use remains unclear. This study used within- and between-person analyses to assess longitudinal associations between youths' EC and cigarette use and shared risk factors.


Between 2015 and 2017, 2039 youths completed three Web-based surveys, allowing us to model EC and cigarette use from ages 16 to 20. Auto-regressive latent growth models with structured residuals (ALT-SR) examined both between-person and within-person associations between past-month frequency of EC use, cigarette use, and third variables (alcohol and marijuana use, mental health symptoms) over time.


Models revealed robust reciprocal associations between EC and cigarette use, such that more frequent EC use at one time predicted more frequent cigarette use at the subsequent time, and vice versa. Between-person analyses showed associations between shared risk factors and both EC and cigarette use. However, shared risk factors did not predict frequency of subsequent EC and cigarette use in within-person analyses.


Findings add to a growing body of research suggesting that EC use among youth is prospectively associated with progression toward greater cigarette use. Shared risk factors may help explain differences in EC and cigarette use patterns between young people, but do not appear to influence longitudinal trajectories of EC and cigarette use within individuals.


This study examined within- and between-person associations between e-cigarette use, cigarette use, and shared risk factors (alcohol use, marijuana use, mental health symptoms) in a longitudinal cohort of youths. Within- and between-person analyses revealed reciprocal prospective associations between e-cigarette and cigarette use, suggesting a progression toward more frequent use of both products over time. The shared risk factors examined here did not affect escalations in e-cigarette or cigarette use over time within individuals, but likely influence which youths use these products. Findings add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that e-cigarette use increases subsequent cigarette use in young people.

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