Childhood Maltreatment Linked to E-Cigarette Use in Young Adults

Teen smoking an e-cigarette
Teen smoking an e-cigarette
Childhood maltreatment has been linked to the use of e-cigarettes in young adults.

Childhood maltreatment has been linked to the use of e-cigarettes in young adults, according to a study published in The American Journal of Addictions. Negative urgency is a significant driver in the connection between childhood maltreatment and lifetime use of e-cigarettes.

This study included 208 young adults between the ages of 18 and 21. The Childhood Trauma Questionnaire was used to conduct an interview on childhood maltreatment, including physical, sexual, and emotional abuse as well as emotional and physical neglect, with satisfactory internal consistency in the study population (Cronbach’s α range, 0.73‐0.93). The Urgency, Premeditation, Perseverance, and Sensation Seeking (UPPS) Impulsive Behavior scale was used to measure impulsivity through negative urgency, premeditation, perseverance, and sensation seeking, also with satisfactory internal consistency across subscales (Cronbach’s α range, 0.74‐0.87). The use of e-cigarettes was evaluated using standard questions on current and lifetime use. The pathways between childhood maltreatment and lifetime/current use were examined using structural equation modeling analysis with adjustments for demographics.

A significant correlation was found between childhood maltreatment and lifetime use of e-cigarettes (β=0.19; P =.02), but not current use (β=0.17; P =.15). Negative urgency was significantly associated with childhood maltreatment (β=0.40; P <.001), and lifetime e-cigarette use was associated with both negative urgency (β=0.26; P =.04) and sensation seeking (β=0.27; P =.004). The correlation between childhood maltreatment and lifetime use was completely mediated by negative urgency (β=0.11; P =.04).

Limitations to this study included self-reporting, a lack of causal inference, a cross-sectional study design, negative urgency’s potential mediating effect, and a lack of testing for impulsivity.

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The study researchers concluded that “individuals who have experienced [childhood maltreatment] are more prone to e‐cigarette use during the transition to adulthood. Under conditions of high stress, young people with a history of [childhood maltreatment] may choose e‐cigarettes over other substances for improved affect due to [their] wide availability and high popularity among young individuals. Further research is needed to understand these findings more clearly, preferably using longitudinal designs, more representative samples, and measures of motives to use e‐cigarettes.”


Shin SH, Conley D, Ksinan Jiskrova G, Wills TA. Adverse childhood experiences and e-cigarette use during young adulthood [published online May 8, 2019]. Am J Addict. doi:10.1111/ajad.12890