The American Heart Association (AHA) has released a statement saying that e-cigarettes may help some smokers kick the habit, but should be used only as a last resort due to the inadequacy of relevant research and lack of regulation.
E-cigarettes, often abbreviated as e-cigs, are battery-powered nicotine delivery mechanisms often using flavored liquid to taste better than classic, combustible cigarettes. Supporters claim that they are a safe alternative to inhaling cigarette smoke, but the AHA isn’t so sure.
Elliott Antman, MD and AHA President, advised medical professional to advocate first for “approved and tested cessation aids,” bringing up e-cigs only after other methods have failed.
Furthermore, Dr. Antman stressed the importance of explaining that research into the long-term health effects of e-cigs is ongoing, potentially leading to the future discovery of health consequences not currently understood. He continued by stating that government regulations are virtually non-existent in this space, preventing consumers from knowing exactly what they are purchasing whenever they opt for an e-cig product. This makes it more likely to inadvertently consume a toxic chemical.
If a patient decides to try e-cigs after hearing and understanding all of the risks above, Dr. Antman advises a firm quit date to be set before they start vaping. Vaping is the verb used to describe the use of an e-cig or related product. The goal is to stop using tobacco products entirely, not switch tobacco delivery mechanisms. Without a firm quit date, Dr. Antman worries that patients may start smoking traditional cigarettes and e-cigs simultaneously, dramatically increasing their tobacco intake.
Going forward, the AHA advocates increased governmental regulation of e-cig manufacturers and additional research into their potential health consequences.
E-cigs were invented in China in 2003, and today there are 465 different brands marketing 7,760 flavors of nicotine. Vaping has exploded in popularity in recent years, but researchers have not been able to keep up. E-cig manufacturers are partially to blame, as they experiment with new e-cig designs and additives faster than the scientific community can research them.
However, Dr. Antman is most concerned by the potential for e-cigs to be marketed toward children. Many of the flavors seem targeted to a younger demographic, including chocolate, bubble gum, mint, caramel, and various fruit flavors. They are often sold in colorful packages reminiscent of candy as well. A 2012 study suggests that children are indeed trying e-cigs. 1.78 million students ranging from the sixth through twelfth grades reported trying e-cigs at least once, with 76.3 percent of those admitting that they had tried traditional cigarettes as well.
Dr. Antman believes that the proliferation of e-cigs could get more Americans addicted to deadly tobacco products, especially the younger generation. For this reason, the AHA advocates legal restrictions on the ability to market e-cigs and related products to minors.
Comparable legislation already makes it illegal to market cigarettes to anyone underage in the United States.
The AHA’s recent statement was foreshadowed by an earlier press release endorsed by a variety of scientists and physicians. In it, the organization argued for additional research into and regulation of the burgeoning e-cig industry, sentiments that Dr. Antman echoed in his statement.
Particular concern was also expressed for children using these products.
Cigarettes are widely believed to be the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, claiming half a million lives each year. In addition, 16 million Americans suffer from smoking-related diseases such as emphysema and lung cancer. The AHA has opposed cigarettes for the duration of its history, so their stand against e-cigs is to be expected. It remains to be seen if their calls for increased regulation and scientific research will bear fruit.
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