E-cigarettes may indeed help smokers quit, according to a new report from a top research group, but at the same time they may pose a real threat of nicotine addiction -- and, possibly even a gateway to cigarette use -- for teens and young adults.
The report, released by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), reveals the conundrum facing doctors, researchers and others who have been trying to pin down whether these relatively new devices constitute a public health boon or threat.
What research finds is in many ways a double-edged sword. According to the report, which looked at the body of evidence on these devices so far, e-cigarettes are a far better alternative to conventional smoking, and possibly even a useful smoking cessation aid for those looking to quit. But young adults who start using e-cigs may be more likely to take up conventional smoking in the future, the group warned.
Currently, millions of Americans use e-cigarettes, and as a result, the devices have become the most common tobacco product used by young adults -- and a multibillion-dollar industry.
“There is [some] limited evidence of e-cigs being effective as smoking cessation aids,” said Dr. David Eaton, chair of the committee that published the report. But, he cautioned, e-cigarettes have not been around long enough to assess their effect on long-term problems such as cancer and heart or lung disease.
Plus, he said, the studies the committee reviewed indicated that young adults using these products had a higher risk of smoking cigarettes at some point -- though the picture was not as clear when it came to whether their risks of becoming a lifelong smoker were higher if they used e-cigarettes.
Industry groups, however, disputed the idea that these devices were a gateway to smoking traditional cigarettes.
Thomas Kiklas, co-founder of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association industry group, called the report’s findings that e-cigarettes could be a gateway to conventional cigarette smoking for young adults “absolutely untrue,” calling the devices an “absolutely vastly less harmful product” when compared to conventional smoking.
The NAS report was commissioned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to help better inform regulators and the public on how best to deal with this evolving field. The report also notes that e-cigarettes contain less toxins than conventional cigarettes, but also that they likely contain a similar amount of nicotine -- though this can vary depending on type of e-cigarette device used.