United States study finds e-cigarettes help adults quit smoking

Henrietta Strickland
January 24, 2018

"There is substantial evidence that e-cigarette use by youth and young adults increases their risk of ever using conventional cigarettes", the report states.

Based on a thorough review of the scientific evidence to date regarding e-cigarettes, the National Academies report finds that there are still many unanswered questions about the impact of e-cigarettes on the health of both individuals and the population as a whole.

Among the numerous findings the committee determined that there is conclusive evidence that in addition to nicotine most e-cigarette products emit numerous potentially toxic substances.

"E-cigarettes can not be simply categorized as either beneficial or harmful", said David Eaton, chair of the committee.

The report also highlights the preponderance of recent studies linking use of electronic cigarettes among adolescents and young adults to initiation of combustible cigarettes. "In other cases, such as when adult smokers use them to quit smoking, they offer an opportunity to reduce smoking-related illness". The conclusion echoes a study by the University of MI that claims teenagers who use e-cigarettes are four times more likely to start smoking tobacco within a year. While the report found evidence that vaping may prompt teenagers to try cigarettes, it did not find any significant existing links between use of e-cigarettes and long-term smoking addiction. Watkins and her colleagues also found that the effects of using non-cigarette products compound: "Kids using two or more non-cigarette products were four times as likely to report using cigarettes a year later". For teenagers, they could do more harm than good. More long-term studies are needed.

Smoking e-cigarettes, also known as "vaping", is often seen as a less risky alternative to tobacco, and the devices are sometimes marketed as a way to help smokers kick the habit. The committee came to several conclusions about the usage, safety and efficacy of e-cigarettes as cessation devices.

Other takeaways from the report are more favorable toward e-cigarettes.

When people who otherwise would be smoking use e-cigarettes instead, that represents an unambiguous gain from a public health perspective, which seeks to minimize disease and preventable death. But e-cigarettes also pose new and unusual risks, the review says: "e-cigarette devices can explode and cause burns and projectile injuries" and "intentionally or unintentionally drinking or injecting e-liquids can be fatal". But it does make some assertive conclusions: e-cigarettes have definite short-term benefits over regular cigarettes, but only for adults. But overall, the report calls for more research into the health effects of vaping, especially since e-cigarettes are the favored tobacco product of middle and high school-aged students. It is also important to be very concerned about youth experimentation and uptake of ENDS products, the proliferation of flavors and highly appealing products such as JUUL, a product that now has roughly 50 percent of the e-cigarette market.

Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, issued a statement expressing disappointment that the FDA has not acted quickly enough to regulate these products.

"This report shows what happens when a new product is introduced without meaningful government oversight", Myers noted in a press release. "It demonstrates why the FDA should fully and aggressively implement the overdue e-cigarette regulations that took effect in August 2016", it says.

The report stopped short of calling vaping healthy.

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