Smoking is an unmitigated public-health horror. But is vaping? Just when the case against e-cigarettes seemed to be growing stronger by the day, a new study presents a more complicated public-health picture: They seem to be bad for some but good for others.
The study, published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, followed 886 British smokers seeking government help to quit.
Along with a month of counseling, half were given traditional nicotine-replacement products, such as gum or patches, while the other half got e-cigarettes. After a year, researchers checked the carbon monoxide levels in their subjects’ breath, a test for cigarette smoking. Nearly a fifth of those who were given e-cigarettes still abstained from smoking, about double the proportion in the gum and patch group.
The natural inference is that vaping, which mimics the experience of smoking more closely than other nicotine-replacement products, is a useful tool now for some smokers who want to quit.
So should public-health authorities be promoting e-cigarettes? If only it were so simple.
The researchers also found that, among those who quit smoking, the e-cigarette group mostly continued to vape after a year, whereas the patch and gum group stopped using nicotine-replacement products entirely.
the evidence commends neither the prohibition of e-cigarettes nor a welcoming embrace. Rather, the devices should be targeted at a defined subset of people: current smokers for whom patch, gum and drug therapy has not worked.
The Food and Drug Administration should continue cracking down on the sale of vaping products to minors, restricting advertising and limiting the availability of flavorings that might appeal to children. Meanwhile, public-health authorities should support getting e-cigarettes into the hands of those who really need them.