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A couple days ago, the FDA drafted some alarming regulatory plans that would ban any sales activities towards the youth, but would still allow the purchase of various flavorings, e-liquids. They would also set a two-year deadline, during which time any existing e-cigarette brand would have to be approved by a committee, or some kind of regulatory organization. One thing is for sure, something will happen. E-cigarettes are growing increasingly popular; one out of five smokers have already tried using some kind of vaporizing product. The current size of the market is estimated to be around $2.2 billion, in the United States alone, being up more than a billion compared to last year, when it was "only" around $1 billion.
The e-cigarette industry, along with the vapers, is noticeably worried and the newspapers aren't helping. Only a handful of those outlets even considered digging a little deeper and possibly writing an article about the possible health benefits. At the same time, they were always quick to judge those products, and the users as well, without even asking them about their experiences, all the while consistently seeming to ignore published studies that revealed some of the potential benefits of e-cigs (when used as an alternate).
A recent article has been published in The New Republic that was written by a cardiologist named Darshek Sanghavi. As the doctor has stated, despite every effort - that included nicotine patches, gums, and various other products - as of today, nobody has really managed to figure out how to effectively quit smoking or even how to help smokers in the same way it seems possible to help other addicts.
Can e-cigarettes help, or do they act as a gateway?
Although in most countries they still haven't find any effective way to help smokers, Sweden might be on to something. In Sweden, there is a method that has had some success. They use a small pouch of tobacco that's called a "snus," and that pouch sits between the smoker's gum and cheek. Thanks to that (an unidentified cause at this point cannot be ruled out fully), the smoking rates in Sweden are at an all-time low, and when it comes to deaths that can be associated with smoking, they are also the best with a rate that's the lowest anywhere in the world.
Sanghavi firmly believes that we should at least consider e-cigarettes as a tool for helping smokers to quit, despite the fact that the data is simply not there yet, or at least not to a degree that can dispel any doubt regarding its effectiveness. At the same time, Dr. Sanghavi also pointed out the flaws in some studies that tried to argue that those devices are ineffective, failing to evaluate e-cigarettes properly. The doctor seems to have no agenda, and urges everyone to be objective about e-cigarettes.
There are some studies that tried to look at e-cigarettes from that angle, but their findings can certainly be questioned. One of those studies has been conducted by the University of California, and during it, they've surveyed as many as 949 smokers. In 2011, 88 of those smokers have used e-cigarettes, and only 9 of them quit later. When compared to the regular smokers, the two rates were just about the same. In light of those findings, the researchers have argued that e-cigs aren't really helping people to quit smoking. However, there were several problems with this.
First, the only measurement of success they've used was quitting for good, which is not the best way to measure success. They haven't thought about the possible health advantages that type of switch could actually cause. The other thing they've mentioned in this study, was a possible "gateway effect." However, while the e-cigarette use among high schoolers almost doubled (from 1.5% to 2.8%), at the same time, the overall e-cigarette use has actually declined, coming down to 11.8% from 14.6%. This virtually reveals that there can't be any correlation between e-cigarette use and future smoking habits.
To this day, any data that's ever been collected regarding e-cigarettes clearly suggests that increased exposure to them won't lead to future smoking habits (regular tobacco). The number of young vapers is still very small though, so a definitive statement has to wait. Still, the data they got from various studies definitely suggests that e-cigarettes don't work as a gateway habit.
This data simply tells us that teens who try out e-cigarettes won't risk anything with the exposure that otherwise couldn't be waiting for them down the road. Still, more data needs to be collected; and in a couple years, we'll know a lot more. The mission of epidemiologists has to be collecting more data so, one day they - probably in the near future - can safely draw their conclusions. The data also needs to contain details about the possible health benefits.
They have to include those criteria because of the fact that several people are making the switch specifically because they think e-cigarettes can provide a less hazardous alternative compared to regular cigarettes. But even if we ignore those possible health benefits, e-cigarettes can also represent an alternative to nicotine gums and patches, as they can not only provide a quicker delivery system, but they can match the visual earmarks of regular smoking, providing a more effective alternative from a psychological standpoint.
According to David J. Abrams, for the first time in a long time, we have an alternative that can actually be appealing to cigarette addicts. In his opinion, e-cigs can be safer (the emphasis is on the word safer) because there is no known negative long term effects that are linked to the inhalation of propylene glycol, which is a common enough substance in the food industry, and labeled safe under a certain level, with limited exposure. The lack of long-term data regarding e-cigarettes is definitely a concern, but it is a concern that can go away with more research, research that should be extensive and fair.