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To Quit Smoking, E-Cigarettes Are Last Resort, Say Heart Association, Cancer Society

Two well-known public-health organizations aren't exactly giving a seal of approval to electronic cigarettes, but in recent policy statements they've suggested the devices may be useful as a cessation tool if nothing else works. An e-cigarette industry group welcomed the input.

Two of the country’s largest public-health groups aren’t backing down on the fight against nicotine—no matter the form it comes in—but they have made a modest concession on electronic cigarettes.

Buried in a lengthy policy statement that strongly discourages the public from using any form of nicotine and recommends that the Food and Drug Administration treat e-cigarettes the same as other tobacco products, the American Heart Association (AHA) conceded that the devices may be useful as a cessation tool—but only after other options have been exhausted:

The efficacy of e-cigarettes as a primary smoking cessation aid has not been established as being better than other cessation modalities. Current evidence suggests at best a modest effect on cessation, likely equal to or slightly better than that of nicotine patches without behavioral support. If a patient has failed initial treatment, has been intolerant to or refused to use conventional smoking cessation medication, and wishes to use e-cigarettes to aid quitting, it is reasonable to support the attempt. However, subjects should be informed that although e-cigarette aerosol is likely to be much less toxic than cigarette smoking, the products are unregulated, may contain low levels of toxic chemicals, and have not been proven as cessation devices.

While not a rousing show of support—the statement comes with a recommendation that e-cigarette users set a quit date and stop using nicotine products as soon as possible—it nonetheless was seen as something of a victory by a leading e-cigarette industry group.

“We are particularly pleased that AHA’s report recognizes the magnitude of benefits that vaporizers such as electronic cigarettes offer to smokers as tools that can help reduce cigarette-induced diseases,” Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association President and Chairman Phil Daman said in a statement, adding that the industry does not market e-cigarettes as cessation tools.

One point of agreement for the trade association and AHA is their support for tough regulations aimed at preventing children from purchasing vapor products. The former, however, disputed the AHA’s view that e-cigarettes have only a “modest effect” on cessation, citing a study by the Society for the Study of Addiction that it said suggested that cigarette smokers have a higher chance of successfully quitting when using vapor products than nicotine gum or patches.

AHA’s stance on cessation, the Associated Press noted, is similar to that of the American Cancer Society, which issued an unofficial policy statement in May suggesting the devices “may be a reasonable option” when other alternatives for quitting have been exhausted.

In comments to the AP, recently retired ACS scientist Tom Glynn, who focused on e-cigarettes, said treating addiction with alternative products that are considered less harmful—such as treating heroin addiction with methadone—is a contentious issue within the tobacco industry.

“We need hard-nosed regulation for e-cigarettes, and we need more research,” Glynn said. More important, though, “we need to have people stop smoking combustible cigarettes.”

(iStock/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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