January 26, 2018, 03:22 pm News Staff — Millions of Americans use electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) — especially those age 17 and younger, who use e-cigarettes more than any other tobacco product. And although the popularity of e-cigarettes continues to grow, little is known about the products, which only entered the U.S. market in 2006.
To better understand the health effects of e-cigarettes, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) convened an expert committee that conducted a thorough evidence review and released a comprehensive report on e-cigarettes and their effects on health.
Committee members identified and examined more than 800 peer-reviewed scientific studies and offered 47 conclusions on a range of health impacts in its report, which was sponsored by the FDA.
The committee described e-cigarettes as "a diverse group of products that contain a heating element that produces an aerosol from a liquid that users can inhale via a mouthpiece, and include a range of devices such as 'cig-a-likes,' vape tank systems and vape mods."
Key findings from the report included:
"E-cigarettes cannot be simply categorized as either beneficial or harmful," said David Eaton, Ph.D., chair of the expert committee and dean and vice provost of the Graduate School of the University of Washington, Seattle, in a news release. "In some circumstances, such as their use by nonsmoking adolescents and young adults, their adverse effects clearly warrant concern. In other cases, such as when adult smokers use them to quit smoking, they offer an opportunity to reduce smoking-related illness."
The report found use varies substantially across demographic groups, including by age, gender, race and ethnicity. For example, among both youth and adults, use is typically greater among males than females, said the release.
The researchers said more and better research is still needed on the short- and long-term health effects of e-cigarettes, as well as on their relationship to conventional smoking.
The report's conclusions were wide-ranging and included the following highlights:
Exposure to nicotine
Exposure to toxic substances
Dependence and abuse liability
Use by youth/young adults
Injuries and poisonings
Reproductive and developmental effects
Until more definitive scientific data are available, population modeling can help estimate the balance of potential benefits and harms, according to the report's authors.
"Under the assumption that e-cigarette use increases the rate at which adults quit conventional smoking, modeling projects that use of e-cigarettes will generate a net public health benefit, at least in the short run," said the news release.
However, harms associated with higher rates of youth using conventional cigarettes after previously using e-cigarettes won't be known for decades, the release noted. "For long-range projections, the net public health benefit is substantially less, and under some scenarios, the net impact is harmful," it said.
Maximizing the potential health benefits of e-cigarettes will require "determining with more precision whether and under what conditions e-cigarettes help people quit smoking; discouraging e-cigarette use among youth through education and access restrictions; and increasing the devices' safety through data-driven engineering and design," the release concluded.
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