Whether e-cigarettes will on net be good or bad for public health comes down primarily to two important questions. The first is how relatively dangerous they are to use. The second is what impact they have on actual tobacco smoking rates.
A new study published in the Journal of Addiction sheds some more light on that second question. It indicates that they may help cigarette users quit smoking. The study funded by a grant from Cancer Research UK found that smokers trying to quite without professional help were approximately 60% more likely to report success if they used e-cigarettes than people trying to quite cold turkey or using traditional nicotine gum/patches.
The study surveyed 5,863 UK smokers between 2009 and 2014. It found 20 percent of people who tried to quit with the help of e-cigarettes reported having stopped smoking actual tobacco.
Of course this is just one study and it only looks at one side of the total use equation. Even if e-cigarettes help some people quit, it could still be a net negative if they served as a way to encourage other people to start using tobacco products in the first place or return to them. There is also the fear it could re-glamorize nicotine use.
The FDA is going to be paying very close attention to the new research on e-cigarettes as it now starts regulating them. It can choose a light touch or tough restrictions.
Photo by Lauri Rantala under Creative Commons license