As the FDA continues to look at regulating the e-cigarette industry and many cities across the world are implementing no e-cigarette smoking bans, the latest study on the use of e-cigarettes may be clouding the picture.
On July 30th the journal Addiction published a study on the health risks of e-cigarettes. One of the study’s researchers is Thomas Eissenberg, the co-director of the Center for the Study of Tobacco Products at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond, Virginia. Eissenberg stated, “current evidence suggests that there is a potential for smokers to reduce their health risks if electronic cigarettes are used in place of tobacco cigarettes and are considered a step toward ending all tobacco and nicotine use.” Some proponents of e-cigarettes are using this study as proof of the e-cigarette’s safety. In the “for what it’s worth” category, keep in mind that VCU is located in the heart of tobacco country, the home of Philip Morris USA, the tobacco division of Altria Group, Inc.
Eissenberg says that the e-cigs are a safer alternative to tobacco cigarettes—which may be true at this point in time when we have little long-term research to speak safely about the health risks of e-cigs. He notes that e-cigs would be safer when used as a tool for “ending all tobacco and nicotine use”. But, unfortunately, e-cigarettes are not being used exclusively by people who want to stop using tobacco products. With their candy flavorings and clever marketing, e-cigs are attracting a much younger customer base, many of whom have never smoked traditional cigarettes.
Dr. Norman Edelman, a senior medical consultant for the American Lung Association feels we do not have enough information to effectively weigh the benefits with long-term risks.”It is imperative that the FDA finalize proposed e-cigarette regulations by the end of 2014,” he said. “The FDA needs to crack down on quit-smoking and other health claims that e-cigarette companies are making,” Edelman said. (HealthDay, 7/30)
It’s too soon to give e-cigarettes the seal of approval. And, while many of the proponents of e-cigarettes say e-cigs are mainly for tobacco users who are trying to quit, as discussed in earlier articles, the CDC is reporting a significant increase in sales and use of e-cigarettes among middle-schoolers and teens. According to the CDC, “altogether, in 2012 more than 1.78 million middle and high school students nationwide had tried e-cigarettes.”
What might be considered a small health risk for a tobacco-addicted adult is not the same for children as young as 10 years of age who are inhaling nicotine-laced products, which are known to contain the same chemicals found in antifreeze.
Last month the American Medical Association asked for tighter restrictions on the sale and marketing of e-cigarettes. “The AMA’s recommendations include a minimum age of purchase; childproof packaging; restrictions on flavors that appeal to young people, and a ban on unsupported claims that the devices help people quit smoking.”
Let’s not necessarily view this most recent study as a sign that e-cigarettes are safe. Perhaps they are safer than traditional, tobacco cigarettes, and perhaps they help cigarette smokers quit smoking, but classifying e-cigs as “safe” may be a bit premature. The FDA can use this one piece of data as it gets an overall, broad picture of the uses and risks of e-cigarettes. Until we know the whole story, a very cautious approach, at a minimum, should be used when discussing e-cigarettes.