Jury still out on ‘benefits’ of e-cigarettes

Washington: Scientists are debating perception of E-Cigarettes that it helps smokers quit, ban reflexes and does no harm.

Electronic cigarettes could be one of the biggest public health opportunities of our time, but that depends on who you talk to. They have been shown to be effective in helping smokers quit and many believe them to be much safer than cigarettes. But the debate rages on.

The most recent study from 120 countries undertaken by an independent authority, The Cochrane Collaboration, suggested that e-cigarettes have a significant role to play in helping smokers reduce or quit.

A panel of global advocacy, ethical, policy, health, toxicology and industry experts from Germany, New Zealand, South Africa, the UK and USA debated: “are electronic cigarettes killing me softly or our greatest public health opportunity” at AAAS.

Speaker and Chief Executive of Action on Smoking and Health UK (ASH), Deborah Arnott, spoke in favor saying that neither was there evidence thus far from the UK that the growth in e-cigarette use was leading to an increase in smoking, and in fact smoking rates continue to fall. Over one thousand people would die worldwide from tobacco during their 90 minute session alone, and E-cigarettes have the potential to dramatically reduce the deadly toll.

Speaker and Deputy Director of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Dr. Wilson Compton advocated the middle ground saying that nicotine is addictive and addiction is a developmental disorder with an abuse trajectory that predominantly starts in one’s youth. A per the NIDA-funded Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey, daily cigarette smoking by teens has decreased almost 50 percent over the past 5 years. Yet, measuring e-cigarette usage for the first time in 2014, MTF found that over 17 percent of 12th graders had used them in the past month and many of these e-cigarette users had no reported prior use of tobacco cigarettes or smokeless tobacco.

Sir Peter Gluckman, Discussant and Chief Science Adviser to the Prime Minister of New Zealand, commented that it was clear that unless robust scientific evidence both as to short and long-term effects was obtained, it would be confusing as to whether e-cigarettes were a positive or negative contribution to public health and whether their use can be regulated in such a way as to promote positive rather than negative outcomes.

Speaker and Chief Medical Officer and Director of Compliance at Nicovations Ltd, a subsidiary of British American Tobacco, M.D. Kevin Bridgman added that there was growing consensus among public health professionals that e-cigarettes were significantly less risky than conventional cigarettes. However, in order to realize their full potential, e-cigarettes should be regulated to ensure appropriate quality and safety standards, whilst also allowing sufficiently wide retail availability, appropriate lifestyle positioning and flexibility for the rapid introduction of product innovation.

Discussant and Chair of Evidence-Based Toxicology at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Thomas Hartung said that the flavors added to some e-cigarette brands such as pop-corn or bubble-gum or even gin and tonic were a big issue as what was safe in food wasn’t safe if inhaled. There was a need for data sooner than later, and that they must find new ways to combine the knowledge and vested interests of an industry which is no longer old-school and old-science tobacco, but highly modern and on a par with pharma, with the opportunities of new approaches coming from academia and regulatory science.

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