A fair amount of conversation about e-cigarettes has involved their use in purportedly helping people to quit smoking. Researchers on Monday said the evidence for that has been "unconvincing," and they suggest that regulations should forbid such claims until there's supporting research.
In a letter Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. Internal Medicine, researchers from the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education and the Department of Medicine at UC San Francisco noted that e-cigarettes are "aggressively promoted as smoking cessation aids."
Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are battery operated; they heat substances that usually include nicotine to deliver a vapor for inhalation that often also contains flavors (fruit, bubble gum and others). Unlike conventional cigarettes, there's no tar or carbon monoxide. It's estimated to be a $2-billion business.
Detractors say they are a means to make smoking socially acceptable again, and that they target young people.
The researchers cited studies on the topic. One trial comparing e-cigarettes with and without nicotine and a nicotine patch found no differences in rates of quitting over six months. And a study that said that although 85% of e-cigarette users said they were doing so to quit, they did not quit more frequently than people who didn't use e-cigarettes.
In their own study, the researchers surveyed 949 smokers and found that use of e-cigarettes at the start of the study did not predict quitting a year later. And among those who smoked at the start and a year later, use of e-cigarettes was "not associated with a change in cigarette consumption."
The researchers said that more women, younger adults and people with less education use e-cigarettes.
"Regulations should prohibit advertising, claiming or suggesting that e-cigarettes are effective smoking cessation devices until claims are supported by scientific evidence," the researchers – Rachel Grana, Lucy Popova and Pamela Ling -- wrote.
In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Michael Katz wrote, "Unfortunately, the evidence on whether e-cigarettes help smokers to quit is contradictory and inconclusive." He added that he agreed with the researchers about claims around quitting and said that e-cigarettes should be regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration "as a drug-delivery device."
E-cigarette detractors say they could lead to increased smoking. Others make the argument that they're safer in public places and can help people quit smoking. Some communities, including Los Angeles, have restricted their use.