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Study Reports Benefits of E-Cigarettes Outweigh Harms

Update Date: Jul 31, 2014 10:31 AM EDT

E-cigarettes, which are electronic devices that use batteries to vaporize a liquid solution that often contains nicotine, have recently received a lot of attention after tobacco laws became stricter. With more people using these devices, organizations and governmental agencies have started questioning their safety. In a new study, researchers reported that the benefits of using e-cigarettes outweigh the harms.

"Current evidence suggests that there is a potential for smokers to reduce their health risks if electronic cigarettes are used in place of tobacco cigarettes and are considered a step toward ending all tobacco and nicotine use," said study researcher Thomas Eissenberg, co-director of the Center for the Study of Tobacco Products at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, reported by Philly.

For this study, a team of scientists reviewed the results from 81 studies that had focused on e-cigarette safety concerns, chemicals present in the liquids and vapors, and popularity among smokers and non-smokers. When compared to tobacco smoke, the researchers stated that e-cigarettes were relatively safer. They concluded that smoking-related deaths could decrease if e-cigarettes replaced traditional cigarettes. The team stated that e-cigarettes should not be regulated in the same way that tobacco products are.

"If there are any risks, these will be many times lower than the risks of smoking tobacco," commented senior author Dr. Hayden McRobbie, from the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine at Queen Mary University of London. "We need to think carefully about how these products are regulated. What we found is that there is no evidence that these products should be regulated as strictly as tobacco, or even more strictly than tobacco."

Study author, professor Peter Hajek of Queen Mary University in London, added according to BBC News, "This is not the final list of risks, others may emerge. But regulators need to be mindful of crippling the e-cigarette market and by doing so failing to give smokers access to these safer products that could save their lives. If harsh regulations are put in place now, we will damage public health on a big scale."

The researchers added that there is no evidence that the vapor from e-cigarettes is harmful to the user and fellow bystanders. There is also no evidence that e-cigarettes influence people to start smoking conventional ones. The team, however, did caution that the risks involved with long-term use are still unclear. In addition, the effects of using these devices for people with respiratory issues are also unknown.

"So far there hasn't been very much chronic use of e-cigarettes. So it's not possible to say there will be no harm," Dr. Norman Edelman, a senior medical consultant for the American Lung Association stated. "Since we are talking about a recreational drug -- it's not essential to life, it doesn't cure any illness -- it would only make sense to regulate it rigorously until we find out whether it's good or bad."

The study was partly funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and published in the journal, Addiction.

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