While the jury remains out on the total health impact of electronic cigarettes, some researchers have stepped up to advocate for the devices — and against regulatory bans restricting access to e-cigs.
Electronic cigarettes are blowing up on the web and in the news and becoming extremely popular among former smokers, long-term research is still underway on the continued use of e-cigs and related devices.
It’s still early in the studies and data game, but it seems a number of experts have registered an initial opinion … one that essentially boils down to e-cigs being a potentially huge breakthrough in tobacco harm reduction.
What we know so far about electronic cigarettes could be considered rudimentary, but remains a crucial aspect of regulatory influence — they aren’t cigarettes. And unlike cigarettes, e-cigs don’t burn … so many of the adverse known effects of smoking are not likely to apply to electronic cigarettes.
(Also a “known known”, the lack of smoke smell, ash, and staining that comes along with a smoking habit.)
However, most e-cig users are holding out for the science. And the science isn’t settled — despite a promising endorsement from dozens of researchers in a recent letter.
Last month, an impressive 53 scientists, researchers, and health professionals urged the World Health Organization to support broad and free access to electronic cigarettes, acknowledging the potential they hold for reducing worldwide deaths from tobacco use.
In a letter to the WHO, the researchers said e-cigs “could be among the most significant health innovations of the 21st century”, and added that “the urge to control and suppress [electronic cigarettes] as tobacco products should be resisted”. The letter calls electronic cigarettes “part of the solution” to tobacco-related illness and death (a problem globally), and says:
These products could be among the most significant health innovations of the 21st century — perhaps saving hundreds of millions of lives.
Additionally, the letter’s authors caution public health officials not to succumb to pressure to ban e-cigs before necessary research has concluded, observing that evidence and net benefit should supplant unfounded fear and smoking-related stigma in weighing the official recommendations made about e-cigs:
Policies should be evidence-based and proportionate to risk, and give due weight to the significant reductions in risk that are achieved when a smoker switches to a low risk nicotine product.
Michael Siegel, tobacco control expert at the Boston University School of Public Health, also expressed concern recently that regulatory burdens could hamper the potential of e-cigs to reduce tobacco-related illness and death.
Siegel spoke with USA Today about the threat posed to e-cigs by premature regulations and restrictions, noting that such hoops would allow for the largest manufacturers to remain in business — manufacturers that happen to also make cigarettes, and have the lowest incentive for e-cigs to replace cigarettes among adults who currently or have been smokers. Of the concern that e-cigs appeal to kids, Siegel said the assumptions may actually be backwards:
It would be really hard to switch from a cherry e-cigarette to a Marlboro … In a way, the flavors are protective.
Maciej Goniewicz, a pharmacologist and toxicologist at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, concurred on the issue of access to e-cigs, commenting that “ research studies show that it’s [e-cigarettes] safer than tobacco cigarettes and it might save their lives”.
Currently, the WHO and the Food Drug Administration (FDA) are considering issuing recommendations to regulate e-cigs and the electronic cigarette market.