Research continues to show varied results on the question of whether e-cigarettes can help tobacco smokers quit, although recent evidence appears to be leaning toward the "no" side, Axios' Eileen Drage O'Reilly writes.
Why it matters: If vaping can help smokers quit, it could save some of the 480,000 Americans who die yearly from tobacco-related conditions. But, even if they can help smokers quit, there's also indications e-cigs are ushering in a new generation of adolescents hooked on nicotine who may be more likely to start smoking tobacco later.
On the one hand: The American Cancer Society issued a commentary paper in early June that says the need to halt the use of combustible tobacco products (i.e. cigarettes and pipes) is an absolute priority and e-cigarettes should be considered a possible tool to achieve this. Some studies saying e-cigs can help people quit smoking tobacco include those in the British Medical Journal and Substance Use and Misuse.
"We need to be open to considering these as one tool to help smokers quit. ... Even though the jury is still out ... the state of science is that they are less significantly harmful than smoking combustible products. It's a matter of degree."— Jeffrey Drope, scientific vice president of economic and health policy research, ACS
On the other hand: Some recent research indicates that e-cigarettes may not only fail to help smokers quit, but they could make it worse. Smokers will add on e-cigarettes when they are in places that don't allow tobacco smoking and they'll just smoke both products. Studies supporting this view include those in PLOS ONE and JAMA Network Open.
"Overall, when the dust settles, [e-cigarettes] will be as bad as cigarettes. The risk profile may be different, but the overall result will be negative."— Stanton Glantz, director, Center for Tobacco Research Control & Education
What's next: Watch for local and state governments to take direct action, both Glantz and Drope say. Just last month, San Francisco banned flavored tobacco products, including candy-flavored vaping liquids, despite R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company's $12 million campaign.
- The FDA has taken a strong stance against the unlawful use of e-cigarettes by youngsters, particularly in their use of the vaping product Juul, which looks like a cool USB flashdrive, offers multiple flavors and is popular enough to have become a verb: "juuling."
- The agency is also examining lowering the amount of addictive nicotine. But, Drope warns that limiting the nicotine quantity may "defeat the purpose" of helping people quit smoking. What needs to be done, he says, is to increase state excise taxes on tobacco products.
- The FDA is also considering limiting the flavors available for e-cigarettes.
Meanwhile, lawsuits against Juul and against the FDA have been filed in recent months. The FDA does not comment on pending legal actions, but Juul told Axios' Marisa Fernandez earlier this week that the company "does not believe the cases have merit and will be defending them vigorously."
Go deeper: Read Eileen's full story here.