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E-Cigarettes Can Help Smokers Quit, But FDA Still Proposes They Be Regulated As A Tobacco Product

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A new study suggests that e-cigs should be marketed as a less harmful alternative to smoking. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

E-cigarettes may be moved from the back shelf of a smoke shop to the front of a pharmacy after a recent study shows that they are highly effective at helping individuals quit smoking. Those who attempted to quit without professional help were 60 percent more likely to succeed if they used the electronic smoking device. Still, the FDA is unsure about how safe e-cigs really are.

The study will be published tomorrow in the journal Addiction. A team of researchers surveyed 5,863 smokers between 2009 and 2014 who had attempted to quit smoking without medication or professional support. Results showed that 20 percent of people trying to quit with the aid of the e-cigarettes reported having stopped smoking traditional cigarettes, making it more effective than nicotine patches and gum. For this reason the authors propose that e-cigarettes be considered for medical licensing, Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports. "E-cigarettes could substantially improve public health because of their widespread appeal and the huge health gains associated with stopping smoking, led author of the study Robert West explained to Reuters.

Those with the highest success rate of quitting remain smokers that sought professional help from doctors or health clinics. "These almost triple a smoker's odds of successfully quitting compared with going it alone or relying on over-the-counter products," West added

How To Regulate E-Cigs

This study coincides with the FDA’s recent proposals on how to regulate the new product. On Thursday the FDA proposed that the sale of e-cigarettes should be banned for anyone under the age of 18 and that their packaging should include warning labels. The FDA also argued that e-cigarettes meet the definition of a tobacco product and, therefore, should be regulated as such. Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, feels that these proposed rules "would result in significant public health benefits, including through reducing sales to youth, helping to correct consumer misperceptions, preventing misleading health claims and preventing new products from entering the market without scientific review by FDA" The Huffington Post reports.

Less Harmful Alternative

Others feel that these proposals may be too strict and would prevent smokers from accessing the tools they need to quit. "If the regulations are too heavy-handed, they'll have the deadly effect of preventing smokers from quitting by switching to these dramatically less harmful alternatives," said Jeff Stier, senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, to The Huffington Post . Stier, like others, wants e-cigs to be marketed as a less harmful alternative to smoking. "This could be the single biggest opportunity that's come along in a century to make the cigarette obsolete," explained David Abrams, executive director of the Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies at the American Legacy Foundation, to The Huffington Post. Switching to e-cigarettes does not mean one has to kick their addiction to nicotine and for this reason it could completely replace traditional tobacco smoking.

Long-Term Risks Unknown

Since e-cigarettes also have nicotine, some feel switching to them is not really quitting anything but rather switching the outlet for your nicotine addiction. Reuters reports that others fear e-cigarette could potentially make smoking fashionable once again and tempt children and non-smokers to pick up the habits. There is a lack of long-term scientific evidence on the effects of e-cigarettes. Still whatever their risks may be, they are likely to be far less harmful than tobacco, which the WHO has described as “one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced.” Smoking kills half of those who take it up and has a death toll of 6 million people a year. "It's not clear whether long-term use of e-cigarettes carries health risks, but from what is known about the contents of the vapor these will be much less than from smoking," West told Reuters. 

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