HARTFORD, CT — A major national study on electronic cigarettes purports that vaping can lead to nicotine addiction and may prompt teenagers to switch to cigarette smoking.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released their report on Tuesday, concluding that e-cigarettes, while safer than traditional cigarettes and a useful tool for helping people quit smoking, are not necessarily “safe” for use, and in fact put teens at higher risk of trying cigarettes.
The National Academies study is the most comprehensive review of research on e-cigarettes to date.
Anti-smoking advocates have long argued that e-cigarettes are dangerous because of the potential to turn teens and even young children onto nicotine by luring them with kid-friendly flavors. While the report found evidence that vaping may prompt teenagers to try cigarettes, it did not find any significant existing links between use of e-cigarettes and long-term smoking addiction.
A CDC study found in 2016 that among e-cigarette users ages 18 to 24, 40 percent had never smoked a cigarette before taking up vaping. The study found that the majority of e-cigarette users overall also smoked cigarettes.
David Eaton from the University of Washington, who led the analysis committee, said there are a lot of unknowns about vaping.
“When it got down to answering the questions about what the impacts on health are, there is still a lot to be learned,” he said. “E-cigarettes cannot be simply categorized as either beneficial or harmful.”
Mitch Zeller, the head of the FDA’s tobacco division, said the report was commissioned in 2016, after the agency was granted the authority to regulate electronic smoking devices to learn more about where continued research was needed. He told the New York Times that the study’s findings will have an impact on how the agency regulates e-cigarette use.
“For kids who initiate on e-cigarettes, there’s a great chance of intensive use of cigarettes,” he said. “As the regulator, we’ve got to factor all that in.”
Those who want to see the industry better regulated pounced on the report as a reason to act.
“I share the deep concerns of public health professionals who, once again, have concluded that e-cigarettes pose significant risks to the public, including unknown levels of toxins, dangerous side-effects from secondhand ‘smoke,’ and — particularly for young people — heightened potential for addiction,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said. “The American public deserves thorough, immediate, and sustained Food and Drug Administration scrutiny of these products. FDA must fulfill its commitment to safeguard public health and use its full authority under the Tobacco Control Act to prioritize public safety over Big Tobacco profit.”
Sen. Terry Gerratana, D-New Britain, co-chair of the legislature’s Public Health Committee, said the committee “will certainly be discussing the vaping issue” during the upcoming General Assembly session.
“I’m not sure we are going to be passing any new legislation,” Gerrantana said, “but vaping will be on the list of many tobacco-related issues I’m sure we will be talking about.”
Other key findings of the NASEM report include:
• Limited evidence that e-cigarettes may be effective aids to promote smoking cessation. There is “moderate evidence from observational studies that more frequent use of e-cigarettes is associated with increased likelihood of cessation,” but, “insufficient evidence from randomized controlled trials about the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as cessation aids compared with no treatment or to Food and Drug Administration-approved smoking cessation treatments.”
• Conclusive evidence that in addition to nicotine, most e-cigarette products contain and emit numerous potentially toxic substances. The report also finds that while e-cigarettes are likely to be less harmful than conventional cigarettes, “the implications for long-term effects on morbidity and mortality are not yet clear” and there is insufficient evidence to draw meaningful conclusions about the risks e-cigarettes pose for diseases like cancer and heart disease.
• There is enormous variability among e-cigarette products. Inconsistencies impact exposure to nicotine and toxic substances and therefore could impact the relative health risks and addictiveness of these products, as well as their effect on youth initiation and smoking cessation.
“This report strengthens the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Networks (ACS CAN) position that e-cigarettes should be included in our smoke-free and tobacco-free laws and clearly more needs to be done to prevent the next generation of youth from starting and becoming addicted to these products, Bryte Johnson, director of government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network in Connecticut, said.
Another report released Wednesday, the American Lung Association’s 2018 “State of Tobacco Control,” shows Connecticut, once again, earned less than satisfactory grades on its tobacco policies.
This year’s report finds Connecticut’s grades show zero improvement from last year. The grades were:
• Funding for State Tobacco Prevention Programs – Grade F
• Strength of Smokefree Workplace Laws – Grade C
• Level of State Tobacco Taxes – Grade B
• Coverage and Access to Services to Quit Tobacco – Grade D
• Minimum Age of Sale for Tobacco Products to 21 – Grade F
“Nationwide, cigarette smoking rates have continued to decline to historically low levels, yet tobacco use remains the nation’s leading cause of preventable death and disease killing over 480,000 Americans each year,” said Jeff Seyler, Executive Vice President, Northeast Region of the American Lung Association.
“Tobacco use is a serious addiction, and the fact that 14 percent of adults and 14 percent of high school students in the state of Connecticut are using tobacco today highlights how much work remains to be done in our communities to prevent and reduce tobacco use, Seyler said.
The tax on a pack of cigarettes in Connecticut went from $3.90 to $4.35 on Jan. 1, 2018.
Connecticut is one of only two states, currently, that doesn’t spend a penny on smoking cessation programs. All the money garnered from cigarette taxes is swept into the general fund.