A link was found between the use of the electronic devices by those who have never tried smoking and their first experimentation with cigarettes in the following year.
People in Scotland aged between 11 and 18 were surveyed in February and March 2015, and then again a year later. The research found 40 per cent of those who tried an e-cigarette in the first survey went on to smoke tobacco.
Dr Catherine Best, research fellow at the University of Stirling, said: “Our findings are broadly similar to those from eight other US studies. However, this is the first study to report from the UK.
“Uniquely, we also found that e-cigarette use had a greater impact on the odds of cigarette experimentation in young ‘never smokers’ who had a firm intention not to smoke and/or whose friends didn’t smoke.
“Traditionally, this is the group of young people least likely to take up smoking.”
The initial 2015 survey found that 183 of the 2,125 who had never smoked said they had tried an e-cigarette and 1,942 had not.
Pupils at four Scottish secondary schools took part in the study.
Only 249 (12.8 per cent) of young people who had not tried an e-cigarette went on to try tobacco.
The research was carried out by the DISPLAY Team, a collaboration between the universities of Stirling, St Andrews and Edinburgh, as well as social research institute ScotCen.
Sally Haw, professor of public and population health, said: “The greater impact of e-cigarette use on young people thought to be at lower risk of starting smoking is of particular concern.
“Further research is required to discover how experimentation with e-cigarettes might influence attitudes to smoking in young people traditionally at lower risk of becoming smokers; and importantly how many of this group who do experiment with cigarettes go on to smoke regularly.”