Recently at Medical News Today, we have looked at a number of studies that assessed the potential harms and benefits of e-cigarettes. Now, we report on a new study published in PLOS ONE that suggests that use of these devices might be more harmful than beneficial.
Electronic cigarettes, also called e-cigarettes, are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid solution, which may or may not include nicotine, into a vapor that is inhaled — or "vaped" — by the user.
The devices have become a popular alternative to conventional cigarettes in recent years, due in part to the belief that they present fewer health risks than regular ones.
The use of e-cigarettes is growing rapidly in the United States. However, this surge in popularity is controversial — not only due to the questions posed by researchers over whether or not vaping is harmful, but also because of concerns that teenagers may be using e-cigarettes as a gateway into regular smoking.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have banned the sale of e-cigarettes to individuals under the age of 18. But more scientific evidence is needed to inform the public debate about the effects of e-cigarettes at population level.
A recent study reported by MNT found that teenagers who had used e-cigarettes had three times the amount of toxic compounds in their bodies than teenagers who had never vaped.
And, another recent scientific paper that we covered suggests that the heating coils in e-cigarettes may contribute to these high levels of toxic compounds.
The authors of that paper found that small concentrations of toxic metals were present in the liquid solutions in e-cigarette refilling dispensers, but that these levels were much higher in solutions that had already been heated within e-cigarettes.
The authors explain that this finding indicates that it is the heating coils — rather than the solutions themselves — that are the main source of toxic metals.
'More population-level harms than benefits'
The new study analyzed data that were taken from census counts, previously published scientific literature, and surveys of national health and tobacco use.
The study authors weighed up the relative harms of using e-cigarettes and compared them with those of smoking regular cigarettes.
The scientists conclude that use of e-cigarettes is currently linked with more population-level harms than benefits.
What is more, the authors note that e-cigarettes could slow or reverse the substantial reduction in smoking among young people that tobacco control efforts have driven since the 1990s.
Lead author Samir Soneji — an associate professor at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice at Dartmouth College in Lebanon, NH — says that although the tobacco industry markets e-cigarettes as smoking cessation tools, relatively few e-cigarette users are able to quit smoking successfully. Rather, e-cigarette use may actually lead to people taking up smoking.
"E-cigarettes could lead to more than 1.5 million years of life lost because their use could substantially increase the number of adolescents and young adults who eventually become cigarette smokers."
The authors recommend that efforts should be made at national, state, and local levels to reduce e-cigarette use among young people. This could include taking steps to make e-cigarettes less appealing to teenagers, such as making "kid-friendly fruit flavors" less available.
"E-cigarettes will likely cause more public health harm than public health benefit," concludes Soneji, "unless ways can be found to substantially decrease the number of adolescents and young adults who vape and increase the number of smokers who use e-cigarettes to successfully quit smoking."