By Elise Viebeck - 08/25/14 12:16 PM EDT
Electronic cigarettes are taking off among young people who had never smoked before, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
More than 263,000 young people chose e-cigarettes when smoking for the first time in 2013, a three-fold increase from 2011, the agency reported in a new study.
Approximately 44 percent of youths who typically don't smoke but had used e-cigarettes said they plan to smoke traditional cigarettes in the next year. Less than half (22 percent) said the same if they had never used e-cigarettes.
The study used data from the CDC's National Youth Tobacco surveys of middle and high school students. It was published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research.
Agency officials expressed concerns that the rising use of e-cigarettes is not just limited to adults.
"The increasing number of young people who use e-cigarettes should be a concern for parents and the public health community, especially since youth e-cigarette users were nearly twice as likely to have intentions to smoke conventional cigarettes," said Rebecca Bunnell, associate director for science in the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health.
"We are very concerned about nicotine use among our youth, regardless of whether it comes from conventional cigarettes, e-cigarettes or other tobacco products,” said Tim McAfee, the office's director.
E-cigarettes are a relatively new technology that allows the user to inhale nicotine vapor in a process known as "vaping."
While public health experts see the devices as a serious threat, the e-cigarette industry argues its products are safer than conventional cigarettes and can help traditional smokers quit.