Public health officials disagree about the relative safety of e-cigarettes and nicotine vaporizers, noting that there's a dearth of research on the longterm effects of the products. But e-cigarettes just got a significant endorsement as a quitting tool from an unlikely source: The American Heart Association, a nonprofit health advocacy organization that has taken a strong stance against the tobacco industry for nearly a century. The group released a lengthy statement on Sunday that mostly calls for stricter regulations on e-cigarettes, especially when it comes to marketing aimed at children. In a surprise, though, AHA also acknowledges that there's research indicating that e-cigarettes may help smokers quit entirely.
As Aruni Bhatnagar, professor of medicine at the University of Louisville in Kentucky and the lead author of the AHA's statement, wrote:
"If someone refuses to quit, we’re not opposed to them switching from conventional to e-cigarettes...Don’t use them indefinitely. Set a quit date for quitting conventional, e-cigarettes and everything else. We don’t think that will be the long-term or useful way to look at it because e-cigarettes may continue and fuel nicotine addiction. Nicotine is not innocuous — it’s known to be harmful and have cardiovascular effects."
Overall, the AHA's position on e-cigarettes as tobacco alternative is not nearly as positive. The group notes that many e-cigarette makers present their products as a safer and more attractive alternative to smoking by using the term "vaping." The AHA also faults companies for offering flavor varieties that may appeal to children ("bubble gum, caramel, chocolate, fruit and mint, all attractive to young people," in the organization's words). The group wants to see the US Food and Drug Administration, which is finalizing new regulations for e-cigarettes, impose tighter restrictions on their sales and advertising. It's a mixed bag of news for backers of e-cigarettes, but at the very least, it should give those struggling to quit smoking another viable option.