E-cigarettes “likely” to have public health benefits: study

Public health

22 Jul 2016

The debate surrounding e-cigarettes is likely to step up a notch following the release of a new study which has found they are likely to provide public health benefits.

The modeling study, undertaken by tobacco control experts from the US, Canada and Australia, is based on “conservative estimates” of the likely uptake of vaping and smoking by adolescents and young adults.

And the study published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research raises questions about recent claims by some scientists that e-cigarettes are likely to act as a gateway to the use of tobacco products.

Speaking to the limbic from the US, lead author, population scientist Professor David Levy, PhD, a professor of oncology at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, said he did not believe there was a strong basis for these claims.

“We don’t think that the evidence supports that,” he said. “The studies that make that claim are based on weak methods and poor measures.”

Professor Levy, who worked on the study with co-author, Professor Ron Borland, of Cancer Control Victoria, said it was pleasing to see the significant worldwide interest in the results.

“We were hoping for it and are glad to see it, since e-cigs are getting attention globally,” he said.

Professor Levy said the study had looked at the broad range of reasonable scenarios, including both the potential for e-cigarettes to reduce harm and improve public health, as well as the potential to increase harm if youth who would not have otherwise smoked become cigarette smokers as a direct consequence of first trying e-cigarettes.

“Based on the current estimates of usage, we think that the benefits outweigh the risks. However, the article also emphasizes that better data is needed on usage rates,” he said.

He said the study indicated that e-cigarettes were likely to reduce cigarette smoking and not lead to offsetting increases in harm from the use of e-cigarettes and more deadly cigarettes.

“When we consider the plausible positive and negative aspects of e-cigarette use, we find that vaping is likely to have a net positive public health impact,” he said.

The study’s projection rates were significant – a 21% reduction in smoking-attributable deaths and 20% reduction in life years lost as a result of use of e-cigarettes in people born in 1997 or after. But Professor Levy remained firm on his support for the decision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban use of e-cigarettes to people aged under 18.

“No, we were not surprised (about the high projection rates),” he said. “We support the ban on Purchase by those under age 18 to help reduce the likelihood of any gateway effect and because any nicotine use is undesirable for those under 18, although e-cigs are probably much less harmful than cigs.”

While this was a study conducted in the US, Professor Levy said it had relevance in Australia, but would be influenced by different regulatory scheme.

And he stopped short of saying the future for e-cigarettes was bright.

“It will depend heavily on the regulations and policies toward e-cigs and cigs, and that is difficult to predict,” he said.

“Right now the biggest drawback in the US is the lack of a clear regulatory scheme. If deeming regulations discourage non-cigarette e-cig companies (not producing cigs), they are likely to be a less desirable substitute for cigarettes.”

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