It’s the most comprehensive report yet on nicotine-containing e-cigarettes. Comprehensive, but hardly conclusive. On the contrary, a recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine is as noteworthy for what it won’t say as for what it will. It will say that vaping, or smoking e-cigarettes, is safer than smoking traditional cigarettes. But it won’t say that vaping is safe.
It will say that vaping has benefits for those trying to quit smoking. But it won’t say that e-smokers trying to stop traditional smoking will succeed in quitting.
It will say that switching to e-cigarettes lessens smokers’ contact with tar, chemicals and carcinogens, all of which can kill. But it won’t say that vaping has no ill health effects.
The report – a conglomeration of credible existing research – will say that second-hand particulates can be harmful to human health. But it won’t specify or quantify that harm, citing – as it does with the other unknowns – a dearth of research on the still-rather-new smoking devices.
And in what is the report’s most shaking finding, it will say that vaping with nicotine-containing e-cigarettes can be addictive, and can increase teenagers’ future risk of becoming smokers. That, by the way, is a first of sorts; it’s at odds with much existing research.
It will say that e-cigarettes are associated with those same teens smoking at least one real cigarette later in their lives.
But it won’t say that using e-cigarettes prompts teens to advance to full-blown smoking. And it won’t assert that its moderate evidence is, in and of itself, strong enough to hang any policy hats on its conclusion.
Still, given that almost 1.7 million teens, more than 11 percent of all high school students, have said they’ve recently vaped, even this wobbly finding is formidable – and far too serious to ignore.
“The evidence was substantial that this association was consistent across a number of research methodologies, age ranges, locations, and research groups in and outside the U.S.,” Adam Leventhal, University of Southern California medical professor and one of the report’s authors, told The New York Times.
Leventhal said his team’s research of existing literature was exhaustive, spanning the world’s studies on the subject. His group’s finding contradicts what had been the prevailing assertions, including that of the British Royal College of Physicians.
“Concerns about e-cigarettes helping to recruit a new generation of tobacco smokers through a gateway effect are, at least to date, unfounded,” says that group’s website.
So what to make of all these sort-of-bad, sort-of-not pseudo-conclusions? Well, we should neither make too much nor too little of it.
We should certainly not panic and presume teen vaping provides a wide and paved path toward serious later smoking. Nor should we be cavalier by supposing that these fashionable, tobacco-free devices are perfectly safe and nonaddictive.
“What the report demonstrates is that despite the popularity of e-cigarettes, little is known about their overall health effects, and there is wide variability from product to product,” Matthew L. Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told The Times. “That makes the case even stronger for FDA (Food and Drug Administration) regulation.”
It also makes perfect sense.
– Altoona Mirror