Government Task Force Issues Useless Advice On E-Cigarettes

Guy Bentley | Research Associate, Reason Foundation

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has weighed in on the heated debate over whether e-cigarettes are an effective way to wean people off tobacco and if they are safe enough to avoid draconian regulations.

The federally appointed group of experts said the best way for smokers to kick their habit was counseling and nicotine replacement medication. But smokers looking to quit their habit in search of clear guidance around e-cigarettes will be left sorely disappointed.

“It’s not a statement saying that doctors should not advise people to use them,” said Dr. Albert Siu, chair of the USPSTF. Even though e-cigarettes have been around since 2007, the group said there was still not enough evidence for them to make even a cautionary judgement about the devices.

The American College of Physicians, reacting to the guidelines said in a press release:

While the USPSTF does not counsel against e-cigarettes it says there is not enough evidence in the scientific community to conclude that the devices, invented in 2007, were superior tools for getting people to quit smoking.  They are unable to decide whether to support or reject or endorse e-cigarettes.

The ACP added their insufficient evidence for the Task Force to examine “the benefits and harms of the use of e-cigarettes for smoking cessation in adults, or the use of smoking cessation medications, including nicotine replacement therapy, in pregnant women.”

The USPSTF findings concluded that only two trials examining e-cigarette’s effect on quitting tobacco met their standards for research. One of the trials found no difference in cessation rates between those who used nicotine patches, e-cigarettes with nicotine and e-cigarettes without nicotine.

The second trial found that after one year, those using e-cigarettes with nicotine were more than twice as likely to kick tobacco than those using the devices without nicotine — Though trial was of 300 people, which is not enough for a representative sample.

There have been a number of conflicting studies on whether e-cigarettes are effective for giving up smoking and whether the devices act as a gateway for young people to transition into using tobacco.

It is widely recognized that there is a chasm between the safety of regular tobacco and that of e-cigarettes. The debate raging in the public health community is whether e-cigarettes should be welcomed as a harm reduction measure or treated with skepticism. (Related: Study: E-cigarettes Are 95% Safer Than Tobacco)

One thing is for sure, the e-cigarette industry itself is facing severe threats from the Food and Drug Administrations. If proposed FDA regulations go into effect, e-cigarette makers will have to submit applications for all products. This would cost millions of dollars and could put small, independent e-cigarette manufacturers out of business.

(RELATED: How The FDA Is Helping Big Tobacco)

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