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E-Cigs Are Healthier Than Tobacco, According to All the Research Done So Far

August 9th, 2014


Yet another report on the health effects of e-cigarettes is out today, and this one is worth paying attention to. The study is a review of a vast swathe of research that’s already been done on the controversial gadgets, including some 81 previous studies, and aimed to see what definitive insights could be gleaned from the pile.

The biggest takeaway? We just don't know yet if e-cigs are good for you.

The second biggest takeaway? Vaping liquid nicotine simply isn't as harmful as smoking tobacco cigarettes. That doesn't mean it's totally safe, or can't potentially cause disease. But it's not as risky as its analog counterpart.

To be clear here, this isn't a controversial claim. Or rather, it shouldn’t be. The Food and Drug Administration admitted the same thing itself in an offhand remark at a Senate hearing on tobacco products. A group of 50 top global scientists agreed, saying e-cigs could "save hundreds of millions of lives."

Common sense backs it up, too. Nicotine patches and gums are, after all, similar to e-cigs: a medically-condoned method of ingesting nicotine without the carcinogens produced by burning tobacco. The big question lies in how harmful the nicotine-carrying fluid may be.

The review, which was conducted by Queen Mary University of London and published today in the journal Addiction, concluded that electronic cigarettes have fewer toxins than tobacco smoke, but still some toxins. It found that second-hand vape is much less risky than secondhand smoke, though how risky we don't know yet.

And it found there's no evidence to suggest vaping encourages young people to eventually start smoking analog butts, but does indeed help addicted smokers quit or cut back. In fact, the study's conclusion even suggests that health care professionals should be able to tell smokers that won't or can't kick nicotine cold turkey to switch to e-cigs.

There are two logical implications of this latest study. One, hastily over-regulating mods and e-liquids as if vaping is on par with tobacco smoking will probably do more harm than good. Two, heralding the trend as a 100 percent safe miracle solution to kicking your bad habit is reckless too. We just don't know for sure yet.

The truth, like it often is, is surely somewhere in between the two extremes, which are being trumpeted ever louder in the press as the e-cig debate heats up. (Just yesterday alone Mic ran a story with the headline The One Huge Lie You Were Told About E-Cigarettes, Debunked—the lie being that they're safe.)

At issue here is more than a fact-thin media firestorm, it’s that a hasty regulatory scheme could effectively quash the e-cig business. It's no secret the proposed guidelines currently being reviewed by the FDA would stymie small and medium vape vendors and largely favor big tobacco companies with the cash to put out for expensive FDA approval process.

The government agency even admitted it doesn't have all the facts yet, but says it doesn’t need them to regulate the pants off the new technology, which leaves health advocates worried that discourage vaping could wind up ruining a potentially lifesaving alternative to a deadly habit.

"If harsh regulations are put in place now, we will damage public health on a big scale," study author Peter Hajek told the BBC. He called to let the devices compete in the marketplace against conventional smokes.

The FDA isn't the whole of the problem, either. The World Health Organization is also making moves (albeit slowly) to regulate e-cigs as tobacco products, all the while saying more research is needed. Meanwhile, states are beginning to pass even stricter laws in the absence of federal guidelines, though the e-cig industry, now armed with lobbyists, is fighting to keep the rules as lax as possible.

The salient point here is that, given the potential for e-cigs to help aid smoking cessation, it could be downright harmful to stomp out a healthier alternative to smoking without scientific evidence to back it up.