The recent editorial, “Prioritizing minors’ health,” takes a wrongheaded approach to uncertainty in public health research. While it correctly acknowledges that more research is needed on the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes, it wrongly asserts that e-cigarettes can end dependence on tobacco.
In reality, the public health community is divided on the issue. Some hypothesize that by switching to e-cigarettes, smokers can indeed end their dependence on conventional cigarettes. But quitting is more complicated than that. E-cigarettes could actually discourage quitting by giving smokers a source of nicotine they use throughout the day rather than forcing breaks. The growing popularity of e-cigarettes could also make the act of smoking normal again – which again, discourages quitting.
Indeed, a study published this week in JAMA Internal Medicine, a respected peer-reviewed journal, followed 949 smokers’ behaviors over a year, and found that there was no difference in quit rates between smokers who used e-cigarettes and smokers who did not.
While a single study does not conclusively demonstrate that e-cigarettes do not help quitters, it does show that policymakers should proceed with caution. Nicotine is an addictive product, and its use can impact adolescent brain development. Makers of tobacco and nicotine products have historically dismissed concerns about their harmful effects — which has led to a devastating death toll.
E-cigarette makers do not claim that their products help with quitting — if they did, they would be subject to federal regulation as a drug. Let’s not jump the gun on their behalf.