A fair amount of conversation about e-cigarettes has involved people using them in efforts to quit smoking. Researchers say the evidence for that has been “unconvincing,” and they suggest that regulations should forbid such claims until there is supporting research.
In a letter last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine, researchers from the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education and the Department of Medicine at the University of California-San Francisco noted that e-cigarettes are “aggressively promoted as smoking cessation aids.”
Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are battery-operated; they heat substances that usually include nicotine to deliver a vapor for inhalation that often also contains flavors (fruit, bubble gum and others). Unlike conventional cigarettes, there’s no tar or carbon monoxide. It’s estimated to be a $2 billion business. Supporters say they’re safer in public than conventional cigarettes.
Detractors say that they are a means to make smoking socially acceptable again and that they target young people. Some communities, including Los Angeles, have restricted their use in ways similar to cigarettes.
Among the studies the researchers cited was a trial comparing e-cigarettes (with and without nicotine) with a nicotine patch. That study found no differences in rates of quitting over six months, they wrote in the journal. Another study said that, although 85 percent of e-cigarette users said they were using them to quit, they did not quit more frequently than people who didn’t use e-cigarettes.
In their own study, the researchers surveyed 949 smokers and found that use of e-cigarettes at the start of the study did not predict quitting a year later. And among those who smoked at the start and a year later, use of e-cigarettes was “not associated with a change in cigarette consumption.”
“Regulations should prohibit advertising, claiming or suggesting that e-cigarettes are effective smoking cessation devices until claims are supported by scientific evidence,” wrote the researchers, Rachel Grana, Lucy Popova and Pamela Ling.
In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Mitchell Katz wrote, “Unfortunately, the evidence on whether e-cigarettes help smokers to quit is contradictory and inconclusive.” E-cigarettes, he wrote, should be regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration “as a drug-delivery device.”
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