Vaping's potential to benefit public health exceeds its risks

April 13, 2018 by Nardy Baeza Bickel, University of Michigan
Credit: University of Michigan

The benefits of vaping to quit smoking far outweigh the health risks of youths moving from electronic to traditional cigarettes, a new study says.

An analysis by University of Michigan researchers Kenneth Warner and David Mendez from the School of Public Health found that in the most likely of several simulations they ran, nearly 3.3 million life-years could be saved by the year 2070.
The base simulation takes into account e-cigarettes' possible roles in both and initiation. It reflects more than 3.5 million life-years gained by using the electronic nicotine delivery devices to quit conventional cigarettes and 260,000 life-years lost due to additional vaping-induced initiation by young people.

"I don't think this paper resolves the argument once and for all. But we have to go with the best evidence available," said Warner, former dean of the U-M School of Public Health and the Avedis Donabedian Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Public Health and professor emeritus of and policy.

"I believe the case is strong; the benefits outweigh the risks."

At the same time, Warner said the community must keep educating young people about the dangers of smoking and work to continue a sharply downward trend in smoking initiation, as reported in national surveys including the annual Monitoring the Future survey from U-M's Institute for Social Research. Recent MTF reports show a dramatic decrease in teenage smoking over a number of years, with increased vaping among teens during the same period.

One of the concerns about e-cigarettes is that they contain chemical substances that could be harmful to health—albeit far fewer than the 7,000 in and in far smaller quantities for those chemical compounds found in both products, Warner said.

Their relative infancy since a 2003 debut and the ever-changing makeup of the devices in an unregulated marketplace have made it hard for researchers to get a firm handle on just how many and how harmful the chemicals are that are inhaled through vaping.

"We are fortunate to know the risks of cigarette smoking, based on decades of epidemiological research." Warner said. "It could take years before we know the full health impact of vaping, if indeed we ever will.

"Meanwhile, we have a crisis on our hands. Five hundred thousand people are dying each year as a result of smoking. One out of six Americans remain as smokers."

Mendez, associate professor of health management and policy, is one of the co-authors of the recent National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine comprehensive review of more than 800 studies on e-cigarettes.

Overall conclusions from the report were that e-cigarettes are not without but are less harmful than conventional cigarettes, and that when used in the place of traditional cigarettes can reduce exposure to many toxicants and carcinogens and reduce adverse health outcomes. However, it said long-term effects of the products on are still unclear.

The report also acknowledged that e-cigarettes could be a gateway to conventional smoking for . However, Mendez said the committee concluded, based on its own simulation analysis, that under the most plausible scenarios, vaping benefits from increased smoking cessation were likely to exceed the costs associated with the devices acting as a gateway to smoking.

Mendez and Warner developed what they called sensitivity analysis scenarios to assess whether more conservative assumptions might alter their main finding that the potential benefits due to vaping-induced smoking cessation outweigh the possible costs associated with increased . The sensitivity analyses did not change this conclusion.

Though the results of the study show likely net benefits from e-cigarettes, "those benefits represent a small fraction of the enormous harm caused by combustible tobacco," Mendez said.

Explore further: Vaping may be bad for kids, good for adults: study

More information: Kenneth E Warner et al. E-cigarettes: Comparing the Possible Risks of Increasing Smoking Initiation with the Potential Benefits of Increasing Smoking Cessation, Nicotine & Tobacco Research (2018). DOI: 10.1093/ntr/nty062

Related Stories

Vaping may be bad for kids, good for adults: study

January 23, 2018
Vaping, or smoking battery powered devices known as e-cigarettes, may encourage youths to start smoking but may also help adults quit, said a US review of scientific research out Tuesday.

E-cigarettes doing more harm than good: study

March 14, 2018
(HealthDay)—Electronic cigarettes do little to help smokers quit, and could actually increase the likelihood that teens and young adults will start smoking, a new study suggests.

Doctors should consider using e-cigarettes to help patients who have repeatedly failed to quit tobacco, a new study says

April 6, 2018
Growing evidence of the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as a quitting aid means doctors should consider recommending them as a less harmful alternative for patients who have repeatedly failed to stop smoking tobacco with approved ...

E-cigarettes a gateway to smoking? Not likely, according to new published research

March 13, 2017
Are e-cigarettes a gateway product that lead more people, especially teens, to smoke regular cigarettes? No, according to public health researchers from the University at Buffalo and the University of Michigan writing in ...

Balancing the benefits and risks of electronic cigarettes

February 12, 2018
What should physicians say to their patients who ask them about the safety of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) and whether the devices can help them quit smoking? Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) physician Nancy Rigotti, ...

More U.S. teens seeing ads for E-cigarettes

March 15, 2018
(HealthDay)—A new report finds the number of American teens who view ads extolling the pleasures of e-cigarettes is on the rise.

Recommended for you

Dietary fat is good? Dietary fat is bad? Coming to consensus

November 15, 2018
Which is better, a low-fat/high-carbohydrate diet or a high-fat/low-carbohydrate diet—or is it the type of fat that matters? In a new paper featured on the cover of Science magazine's special issue on nutrition, researchers ...

Why we shouldn't like coffee, but we do

November 15, 2018
Why do we like the bitter taste of coffee? Bitterness evolved as a natural warning system to protect the body from harmful substances. By evolutionary logic, we should want to spit it out.

Colder, darker climates increase alcohol consumption and liver disease

November 14, 2018
Where you live could influence how much you drink. According to new research from the University of Pittsburgh Division of Gastroenterology, people living in colder regions with less sunlight drink more alcohol than their ...

Survey reveals how we use music as a possible sleep aid

November 14, 2018
Many individuals use music in the hope that it fights sleep difficulties, according to a study published November 14 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Tabitha Trahan of the University of Sheffield, UK, and colleagues. ...

Want to cut down on your meds? Your pharmacist can help.

November 14, 2018
Pharmacists are pivotal in the process of deprescribing risky medications in seniors, leading many to stop taking unnecessary sleeping pills, anti-inflammatories and other drugs, a new Canadian study has found.

No accounting for these tastes: Artificial flavors a mystery

November 13, 2018
Six artificial flavors are being ordered out of the food supply in a dispute over their safety, but good luck to anyone who wants to know which cookies, candies or drinks they're in.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.