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Public health benefits of vaping outweigh risks

The benefits of vaping as a way to quit smoking far outweigh the health risks youths face if they go from electronic to traditional cigarettes, a new study suggests.

An analysis found that in the most likely of several simulations, nearly 3.3 million life-years could be saved by the year 2070.

“I don’t think this paper resolves the argument once and for all. But we have to go with the best evidence available…”

The base simulation takes into account the possible roles of e-cigarettes in both  smoking cessation and initiation. It reflects more than 3.5 million life-years gained by using e-cigarettes to quit conventional cigarettes and 260,000 life-years lost due to additional vaping-induced smoking initiation by young people.

“I don’t think this paper resolves the argument once and for all. But we have to go with the best evidence available,” says Kenneth Warner, former dean of the University of Michigan School of Public Health and professor emeritus of public health and professor emeritus of health management and policy. “I believe the case is strong; the benefits outweigh the risks.”

At the same time, Warner says the public health community must keep educating young people about the dangers of smoking and work to continue a sharply downward trend in smoking initiation, as reported in national surveys including the annual Monitoring the Future survey from University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. Recent MTF reports show a dramatic decrease in teenage smoking over a number of years, with increased vaping among teens during the same period.

One of the concerns about e-cigarettes is that they contain chemical substances that could be harmful to health—albeit far fewer than the 7,000 substances in cigarette smoke and in far smaller quantities for those chemical compounds found in both products, Warner says.

Their relative infancy since a 2003 debut and the ever-changing makeup of the devices in an unregulated marketplace have made it hard for researchers to get a firm handle on just how many and how harmful the chemicals are that are inhaled through vaping.

“We are fortunate to know the risks of cigarette smoking, based on decades of epidemiological research.” Warner says. “It could take years before we know the full health impact of vaping, if indeed we ever will.

“Meanwhile, we have a crisis on our hands. Five hundred thousand people are dying each year as a result of smoking. One out of six Americans remain as smokers.”

David Mendez, associate professor of health management and policy, is one of the coauthors of the recent National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine comprehensive review of more than 800 studies on e-cigarettes.

Overall conclusions from the report are that e-cigarettes are not without health risks but are less harmful than conventional cigarettes, and that when used in the place of traditional cigarettes can reduce exposure to many toxicants and carcinogens and reduce adverse health outcomes. However, long-term effects of the products on health remain unclear.

To cut smoking’s harm, switch to vaping?

The report also acknowledges that e-cigarettes could be a gateway to conventional smoking for young people. However, researchers say the benefits of more people quitting smoking would outweigh the costs associated with e-cigarettes acting as a gateway to smoking.

The researchers developed sensitivity analysis scenarios to assess whether more conservative assumptions might alter the study’s main finding, but they found no change.

Though the results of the study show likely net benefits from e-cigarettes, “those benefits represent a small fraction of the enormous harm caused by combustible tobacco,” Mendez says.

The researchers report their findings in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research.

Source: University of Michigan

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