The health benefits of quitting smoking are widely accepted, but researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have taken issue with the suggestion that doctors should routinely recommend e-cigarettes as an alternative to cigarettes for their patients who smoke.
The researchers point out in a commentary published in the Annals of Family Medicine that existing treatments are more effective than e-cigarettes to help people quit smoking, there are professional ethics concerns about providers who recommend them, and there is no strong evidence that e-cigarettes are safe.
The researchers described notable safety and health concerns about e-cigarettes. Batteries inside e-cigarettes have caught fire or exploded, and particulate matter from e-cigarettes, which has been shown to be present in similar numbers to cigarettes, can increase the risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
“Though e-cigarettes are likely not as harmful as conventional cigarettes, a growing number of studies report that they are by no means harmless,” said Clare Meernik, M.P.H., a research specialist in the UNC Department of Family Medicine. “Short-term effects include exposure to toxins, reduced respiratory and lung function and burn-related injuries from exploding devices.”
The researchers also noted that e-cigarettes have been less effective than existing treatments to help people quit smoking.
“People are focused on should they use e-cigarettes or not. We can have a conversation about that, but part of the bigger picture is being lost,” said Adam Goldstein M.D., M.P.H, director of UNC Tobacco Intervention Programs. “And that is that we need be using the tools that we currently have available, including seven FDA-approved medications in combination with behavioral treatment. We have quit lines that provide free counseling and physician counseling to help patients come up with concrete plans for quitting and developing the skills necessary to quit permanently and to increase social support — all of which significantly increase cessation.”
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Erin O’Donnell is a freelance health and science writer, parent, and graduate of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Walks by Lake Michigan make her happy.