Lauren M. Dutra and Stanton A. Glantz of the Center for Tobacco Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco, said e-cigarettes deliver a heated aerosol of nicotine mimicking conventional cigarettes.
However, e-cigarettes are sold in flavors such as strawberry, licorice and chocolate that appeal to young people.
The study authors examined survey data of 17,353 middle and high school students in 2011 and 22,529 in 2012 who completed the National Youth Tobacco Survey, which was created to provide information for national and state tobacco prevention and control programs.
The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, found the teens who reported using e-cigarettes at least once, or who said they currently used them, had a greater likelihood of trying conventional tobacco cigarettes, smoking on a regular basis, or being a current cigarette smoker.
For teens who had used conventional tobacco cigarettes, trying an e-cigarette was associated with being an established smoker and current cigarette smoking.
"While the cross-sectional nature of our study does not allow us to identify whether most youths are initiating smoking with conventional cigarettes and then moving on to the use of e-cigarettes or vice versa -- or using both -- our results suggest that e-cigarettes are not discouraging use of conventional cigarettes," the study authors wrote.