Everything else is electronic today, so why not cigarettes? That seems to be the thinking behind the growing use of electronic cigarettes, though whether this is a good thing is open to question.
If e-cigarettes replace traditional cigarettes, the net effect might be good, since the e-cigs emit fewer toxins than the real thing. But if people end up using both -- like avid readers who tote around both books and e-books -- it would be a different story, health officials 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,” said Tim McAfee, MD MPH, director of the Office on Smoking and Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Research is needed to assess how e-cigarette marketing could impact initiation and use of traditional cigarettes, particularly among young people, the CDC said.
Anti-smokers huff and puff
One group that's already made up its mind is Americans for Non-Smokers Rights. It's gone on a crusade against the marketers of e-cigarettes, claiming they are using press releases and social media to tout the benefits of their product, despite a lack of independent peer-reviewed scientific evidence demonstrating the safety or effectiveness.
E-cigarettes don't just produce harmless water vapor, the group claims. Instead, they say, they pollute indoor air with detectable levels of carcinogens and other toxic chemicals.
"What I find most egregious are the direct advertisements with false and misleading claims, including that e-cigarettes are effective smoking cessation devices, that e-cigarette use is permissible in all indoor environments, including venues that are smoke-free, and targeting pregnant women claiming that e-cigarettes are safer and healthier than other tobacco products," said Cynthia Hallett, executive director of Americans for Non-Smokers Rights.
Usage is up
One thing's sure: more people are trying e-cigarettes.
In 2011, about 21 percent of adults who smoke traditional cigarettes had used electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, up from about 10 percent in 2010, according to a study released today by the CDC.
Overall, about six percent of all adults have tried e-cigarettes, with estimates nearly doubling from 2010.
“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.”
During 2010–2011, 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 and current and former smokers. In both 2010 and 2011, e-cigarette use was significantly higher among current smokers compared to both former and never smokers.
Awareness of e-cigarettes rose from about four in 10 adults in 2010 to six in 10 adults in 2011.