It’s not exactly breaking news, but the findings of a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention clearly show that the number of electronic cigarette users is growing at a rapid rate.
No one could have foreseen the massive success of electronic cigarettes, when they were first introduced on the US market, in 2008. Sure, they were a novelty item, and some were curious to give it a try from the start, but now there are tens of millions of people around the world using e-cigs on a daily basis, as an alternative to tobacco cigarettes. And, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five adult smokers in the United States has tried electronic cigarettes in 2011. That’s 21% of the adult smoking population, up from 10% in 2010. Overall, around six percent of all adults in the USA have tried e-cigarettes, double from 2010. This was the first study to report changes in awareness and use of e-cigarettes, and although the results for 2012 haven’t yet been published, it’s safe to anticipate the number of people who have at least given electronic cigarettes a try has increased even more.
“E-cigarette use is growing rapidly,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “There is still a lot we don’t know about these products, including whether they will decrease or increase use of traditional cigarettes.” There’s no contradicting his first statement, but it’s his other comments on the effects of e-cigs I have a problem with. According to the results of a study conducted by Italian scientists, earlier this year, e-cigarettes reduce the number of analogs smoked daily, by up to 50%. And that’s in the case of patients suffering from schizophrenia, a disease known to increase smoking addiction. It may not have been the large-scale study everyone is asking for, but no-one seems eager to conduct, I think this type of research provides some pretty interesting insights about the effectiveness of electronic cigarettes.
The study published by the CDC also shows that in both 2010 and 2011, e-cigarette use was significantly higher among current smokers compared to both former and never smokers, and that awareness of e-cigarettes rose from about four in 10 adults in 2010 to six in 10 adults in 2011. During the 2010–2011 period, adults who have used e-cigarettes increased among both sexes, non-Hispanic Whites, those aged 45–54 years, those living in the South, and current and former smokers.
Despite the overall positive findings of the study, Tim McAfee, director of the Office on Smoking and Health at CDC, had this to say: “If large numbers of adult smokers become users of both traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes — rather than using e-cigarettes to quit cigarettes completely — the net public health effect could be quite negative.” I’m not really sure what he meant by that… I doubt anyone would feel the need to use electronic cigarettes on top of the number of analogs they smoke on a daily basis, but rather as a way to reduce the number of tobacco cigs. But this is exactly the kind of approach that’s killing millions of people every year. This quit smoking completely or die theory, as opposed to tobacco harm reduction (THR). Scientific research has shown that reducing the number of smoked cigarettes improves physical health, and could even make the difference between life and death, and yet important anti-tobacco movement members seem hell-bent on ignoring the benefits of THR. Some people just can’t quit cold turkey, and organisations like the FDA or CDC need to acknowledge that choosing the lesser of two evils can actually save lives.