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Debate Over e-Cigarette Safety

e-cigarettes, imported from China

By Dave Lucas


Albany, NY – A paper purporting to be the latest e-cigarette research concludes that electronic cigarettes are much safer than tobacco cigarettes. But Capital District Bureau Chief Dave Lucas reports the manner in which the research was conducted raises questions about a new report...

An e-cigarette is a battery-powered tube that looks like a regular cigarette but instead of tobacco, it houses a battery-operated heating element that turns a liquid ingredient into a vapor mist which is inhaled into the lungs like a traditional cigarette. According to USA Today, more than one million Americans claim to have used the device to quit smoking since it first became available in the United States in 2006.

A new study by the Journal of Public Health Policy entitled "Electronic cigarettes as a harm reduction strategy for tobacco control: A step forward or a repeat of past mistakes?" concludes that e-cigarettes are safer than the tobacco variety, and have the potential to become a smoking cessation device. The research was conducted and co-authored by Michael Siegel, a professor of community health sciences at Boston University School of Public Health, and Zachary Cahn, a graduate student in the political science department at the University of California at Berkeley. 5,000 surveys were sent out, 222 came back with 216 respndents confirming they were smokers.

Russ Sciandra, NYS Director of Advocacy, American Cancer Society of NY & NJ, says the survey is flawed: he points out that the survey is based on only one brand of e-cigarette,"Blu," and studies have shown tremendous variability in the nicotine delivery and other factors between and within brands. "There are simply too many unknowns when it comes to e-cigarettes. While a new study out today (Electronic Cigarettes as a Smoking Cessation Tool) touts e-cigarettes as a potential smoking cessation device, there still is no scientific evidence that e-cigarettes are a safe substitute for traditional cigarettes or an effective smoking cessation tool. In effect, this study proves nothing.

First, more than half those surveyed did not respond. It's reasonable to assume that nonresponders are more likely continuing smokers, and in fact would be counted that way in many studies. This lowers the "success" rate from 30% to 15%.

Second, cessation is based only on self-report There is no biochemical (or any other kind) of independent validation. This biases the findings toward cessation.

Finally, it's based on only one brand of e-cigarette and studies have shown tremendous variability in the nicotine delivery and other factors between and within brands.

We certainly support the development of therapies that help people quit smoking. If these devices work as the manufacturers claim they do, we urge them to submit their products for clinical research and present the findings to the FDA to determine if they indeed should be classified as a smoking cessation product. In the meantime, New York State should absolutely halt the sale of these products to children and prevent their sale to adults until they're proven safe. "

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently lost an appeal to regulate the electronic cigarette industry, after a U.S. District Court of Appeals rejected a lawsuit. The agency was sued by manufacturers after it began intercepting e-cigarette shipments from China in 2008. New York along with other States--is currently considering a bill which would outlaw the sale of e-cigarettes.