January 24, 2018 3:07 pm
Updated: January 24, 2018 6:08 pm

Do e-cigarettes harm or help? New report reveals the impacts they have on health

ABOVE: New research suggests e-cigarettes serve as gateway to tobacco for youth.

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Electronic cigarettes have been touted as less harmful than conventional cigarettes, as well as helpful when it comes to quitting smoking. However, a new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine finds that while e-cigarettes have the potential to cause harm to one’s health in some ways, in others the extent remains uncertain.

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According to the comprehensive study of 800 peer-reviewed scientific studies, evidence seems to suggest that e-cigarettes are indeed likely to be less harmful than traditional cigarettes – but that’s not to say they don’t come without their own health risks.

READ MORE: Smokeless cigarettes: are they really less harmful than traditional cigarettes?

E-cigarettes were found to contain few numbers and lower levels of toxic substances than cigarettes. But on whether they help adults quit smoking is still up in the air, as well as the type of long-term health effects these products may have, says Maciej Gonievicz, a member of the NAS committee which conducted the study.

“E-cigarettes are not totally safe as they may cause some negative health effects, but they are less harmful than tobacco cigarettes,” Gonievicz says. “This conclusion in our report is one of the strongest that we have made.”

The long-term health effects of e-cigarettes will not be known for some time, but Gonievicz and the committee were able to identify the short-term impacts e-cigarettes could have on smoker’s health.

For example, there is substantial evidence that e-cigarette use results in symptoms of dependence, and moderate evidence that they increase coughing and wheezing in adolescents, as well as asthma exacerbations.

The big takeaway, Gonievicz says, is just how much e-cigarettes affect youth and young adults.

“We found strong evidence that those kids who use electronic cigarettes are more likely to experiment with tobacco cigarettes in the future,” Gonievicz reveals. “The relationship is just correlation. We did not make any conclusion that electronic cigarettes cause smoking, but that they are at risk, meaning that those children today who experiment with electronic cigarettes or use them regularly are more likely to start smoking in the future.”

The overall impact of e-cigarettes on public health, however, is not yet known. In order to understand if these impacts are positive or negative, researchers say more and better research is needed. Therefore, at this time, they cannot be classified as either beneficial or harmful.

For Gonievicz, there are two different messages that come out of this study.

For young people and those who do not smoke, the message would be to not use electronic cigarettes. Until the effects of e-cigarettes are completely understood, it’s best not to smoke them as they still may cause harm and become addictive, Gonievicz warns.

READ MORE: Canadian study shows teens who use e-cigarettes linked to later tobacco smoking

“There’s no reason to use them as there are no health benefits from them if you do not smoke,” he says.

For those who smoke though – and especially those who are trying to quit and find it very difficult – switching from tobacco cigarettes to e-cigarettes would be beneficial.

“That is something smokers should consider, may consider and should try because this would reduce the harm from inhaling nicotine,” Gonievicz says.

Other findings from the study include:

  • Conclusive evidence says that exposure to nicotine from e-cigarettes is highly variable and depends on the characteristics of the device being used and the e-liquid being inhaled, as well as on how the device is operated
  • There is substantial evidence that nicotine intake from e-cigarettes among experienced adult users can be comparable to that of conventional cigarettes
  • There is substantial evidence that suggests completely switching from conventional cigarettes to e-cigarettes can reduce the short-term adverse health outcomes in several organ systems
  • There’s no available evidence on whether e-cigarettes cause or are associated with cancer at this point in time
  • There is no available evidence that e-cigarettes cause respiratory diseases

To see a list of the complete findings, click here.

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