Safe or not? More studies examine the risk of electronic cigarettes

electronic cigarettes e-cigarette

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — More studies are examining the risk of electronic cigarettes, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

How safe are electronic cigarettes and what public health role could they play in reducing the risk from consuming tobacco products?

As the tobacco industry, consumers and public health advocates continue to wait on the Food and Drug Administration – five years and counting – to answer those questions, numerous studies have been submitted recently that either attempt to fill a scientific information void or promote a preferred regulatory outcome.

E-cigs are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid nicotine solution in a disposable cartridge and create a vapor that is inhaled. Vapor products, a rival category, can feature a liquid capsule that is inserted into a cartridge. Vapors offer consumers a wider variety of flavors, included fruits and candy.

The financial potential of e-cigs could be stout. Wells Fargo Securities analyst Bonnie Herzog estimated there was $2 billion in overall e-cig revenue last year. She projects up to $10 billion by 2017.

One study by researchers at UNC School of Medicine probed N.C. physicians’ attitudes toward e-cigs as a potential smoking cessation product for adult smokers. The study was published July 29 in the journal PLOS One by four physicians, three of whom are with the Department of Family Medicine at the UNC medical school.

About 67 percent of the 128 physicians surveyed indicated e-cigarettes are a helpful aid for smoking cessation, 65 percent believe e-cigs represent a lower risk of cancer than traditional cigarettes, and 35 percent recommended them to their patients.

That’s even though the FDA has not approved or recommended any e-cig for a smoking cessation option. None of the Big 3 manufacturers – Lorillard Inc. (blu eCigs), Philip Morris USA (MarkTen) and Reynolds American Inc. (Vuse) – market their e-cig brands as smoking cessation products even as each has gone national in distribution.

“Yet, e-cigarettes appear to play a substantial role in tobacco users’ cessation attempts,” the UNC researchers said. The physician participation breakdown was: 28 family medicine; 28 surgeons; 27 psychiatrists; 24 internal medicine and 21 obstetricians/gynecologists.

“Physicians were more likely to recommend e-cigarettes when their patients asked about them, or when the physician believed e-cigarettes were safer than smoking standard cigarettes.” Eighty percent said patients had asked them about e-cig usage.

The survey also found 64 percent of physicians also recommended “intensive tobacco treatment counseling”

The UNC researchers said FDA regulation “will help ensure patients receive evidence-based recommendations about the safety and efficacy of e-cigarettes in tobacco cessation.”

“Physicians should remain cautious until more data is available about recommending e-cigarettes as tobacco cessation tools in clinical practice in favor of more effective modalities,” the UNC researchers said.

The researchers said part of their caution comes from determinations in other research studies that e-cigs could serve as a gateway to traditional cigarette use, or as a way to circumvent public smoking bans.

“Without widespread dissemination of clear, evidence-based research on e-cigarettes, it is likely these discrepancies will continue, and patients could potentially be given inaccurate information,” the UNC researchers said.

A study in the journal Addiction, published in June, found that the vapor used in e-cigs “can contain some of the toxicants present in tobacco smoke, but at levels which are much lower.” The study by five researchers, two of whom had connection to a FDA tobacco panel, drew upon 81 different global studies.

R.J. Reynolds Vapor Co. is sponsoring a study to determine what potential risks there are in the vapor smoke emitted from an e-cig compared with a combustible cigarette. The study began in May with 72 participants at Clinical Research Atlanta and is expected to last until December, according to a filing on ClinicalTrials.gov – a website for the National Institutes of Health.

“Long-term health effects of e-cigs are unknown, but compared with cigarettes, they are likely to be much less, if at all, harmful to users or bystanders,” the researchers said in the study in Addiction.

The researchers said that although e-cig use is increasing, “to date, there is no evidence of regular use by never-smokers or by non-smoking children. They enable some users to reduce or quit smoking.”

“Health professionals may consider advising smokers unable or unwilling to quit through other routes to switch to e-cigs as a safer alternative to smoking, and as a possible pathway to complete cessation of nicotine use.”

A third study, in the May edition of Journal of American Medicine Association’s internal medicine publication, said there is no conclusive evidence that e-cigs can play a role in smoking cessation, particularly in comparison with a nicotine patch.

“A longitudinal, international study found that, although 85 percent of smokers who used e-cigarettes reported using them to quit, e-cigarette users did not quit more frequently than nonusers,” researchers said.

“Among U.S. quitline callers, e-cigarette users were less likely to have quit at seven months than nonusers.”

That study has come under criticism for saying e-cig manufacturers are “aggressively promoting them as cessation ads” even though the Big 3 manufacturers confirm they have not marketed their products that way. There’s also been criticism that the study’s researchers have ties to pharmaceutical companies whose products could face competition from e-cigs as smoking cessation products.

In an accompanying editor’s note, Dr. Michael Katz said the FDA should regulate e-cigs as a drug-delivery device, and that e-cigs should not be allowed to be used in public places where traditional cigarettes has been banned.

“Unfortunately, the evidence on whether e-cigarettes help smokers to quit is contradictory and inconclusive,” Katz wrote. He did say he was willing to support their use if “there were good data indicating that they helped smokers to stop.”

Dr. Gilbert Ross, medical and executive director of The American Council on Science and Health, said “allowing e-cigs to compete with cigarettes in the marketplace might decrease smoking-related morbidity and mortality.”

“Regulating e-cigs as strictly as cigarettes, or even more strictly as some regulators propose, is not warranted on current evidence.”

John Spangler, a professor of family and community medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, said recent studies “have tempered my enthusiasm for using electronic cigarettes for quitting, showing they might not help.” Spangler did not participate in the UNC research study.

“There is also the concern for long-term effects. Still, some of my patients have found them useful to either cut down or quit.

“So I tell patients the possible risks of e-cig use, the benefits some of my patients have found, and the unknowns regarding use. Then I let them decide.”

10 comments

  • Hans Solo

    Honestly who cares if people want to smoke the ecigs let them. It’s certainly no worse than cigarettes. It just one of those things that people don’t like other people doing so they try limiting their ability to do it. Same with firearms yeah there is a certain aspect of danger to doing it but just because you don’t like them doesn’t mean that they should be banned. If you ask me people should just mind their own business about what other people do unless it’s putting them in immediate danger. It’s an ecig they aren’t walking around smoking asbestos blowing it in the air. lol

  • Devin Alexander

    I have been using an e cig for 8 months and have not smoked a real cig since I started. I now think real cigs stink when I smell them. My house smells so much better and is no where near as dusty as it was. I no longer have nasty ash treys filled with cigarette butts. My lungs fill amazing as I know longer have a wheeze, and can play basketball again. I went from spending about 250$ or more every month for me and my wife to spending around 40$ a month. I also like the fact that I can pick the amount of nicotine I want in my e juice. I started out using 18mg as that is what is in a reg cig and am now down to 9 mg. My plan is to get it down to 0mg and then try to break the hand to mouth habit. All i can go by is how I feel and the effect it has had on my life and my wifes life, but , anyone who says that these are not way better than regular cigs is either working for the tobacco companies , completely ignorant on this issue, or is one of those people that love to be contrary about everything. I recommend e cigs to anyone that will listen very passionately.

  • Devlin Skahill

    Cigarettes may cause cancer but the nicotine GROWS IT, and concentrated nicotine like in e-cigs can grow it exponentially faster especially when INHALED!! Your an idiot if you use either.. Unless you wanna die, slowly, and painfully.. why doesn’t anybody seem to mention this FACT when talking about e-cigs? The FDA is a joke.. a very very bad joke!

  • Bill

    A good read read on nicotine is the anti-smoking book ‘Nicotine and Health’ (2013) by the American Council on Science and Health. The book is available Free Online. It explodes the myths people like Devlin Skahill hold. I myself believed it until I read an guest editorial printed in ‘Archives of Toxicology’ (Oct. 2013) by Toxicologist Bernd Mayer titled, ‘How much nicotine kills a human? Tracing back the generally accepted lethal dose to dubious self-experiments in the nineteenth century.’ The article reads like a detective novel as he travels to Germany and translates the original notes that incorrectly gave nicotine a high poison rating.

    I quit 44 year smoking habit in January because all the studies done so far, show how safe e-liquid devices are. I can breath and my arms don’t go to sleep anymore if I keep them bent them too long. Needless to say, I don’t hold any respect for the UCSF Tobacco Control team headed by Stan Glanz and the pseudo-science he is putting out.

  • freedomofspeechimamerican

    FRUIT FLAVORED E-CIGARETTES ARE HERE TO STAY – They move long term smokers after the first vape away from smoking. ALL THESE STATE ATTORNEY GENERALS WHO WANT A BAN ON FRUIT FLAVORED
    E-CIGARETTES KNOW THEY ARE KILLING BIG TOBACCO THESE ATTORNEY GENERALS ARE DOING
    ILLEGAL FAVORS OR ACTING ON POLITICAL FAVORS BACKED BY BRIBES AND CORRUPTION WITH
    THE BIG TOBACCO LOBBY. **************( THESE CROOKED ATTORNEY GENERALS ARE DIRTY )******
    THEIR SAYING THEY WANT BIG TOBACCO TO STAY DONT SAVE LIVES THEIR IS TO MUCH BRIBE MONEY
    OR TO MANY POLITICAL FAVORS TO POCKET BY BEING STUGE OF THE TOBACCO LOBBY,
    I will take no cancer please they helped me quit they can help so many that in 10 years smoking will be a 10 million
    dollar national industry or gone, no one wants your death cigarettes anymore so your trying to force the competition out
    so you can make more money it’s like big oil bribing ATTORNEY GENERALS to make sure there are no electric cars
    or solar panels.

  • John Sanders

    Not much to look forward to in being accepted by the Fda, they did approve cigarettes and alcohol. How can they regulate something so many people can just make in their own home?

  • Michael

    Yes ban something that is safer and works with no second hand risks. The FDA says GMO is safe yet studies show they cause tumors and increased estrogen.

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