In recent years, an alternative to smoking has spread across America. E-cigarettes are promoted as a way to reduce or eliminate the nicotine intake associated with smoking. The health effects of vaping are being debated, and opponents say e-cigarettes are attracting our youth to smoking.
It comes as no surprise that at the National Institutes of Health, there’s a major focus on smoking cessation and convincing people not to start smoking. These days, e-cigarettes are a part of that equation. The e-cigarette called Juul promotes itself on YouTube with testimonials from former smokers.
Dr. William Klein is Associate Director of the Behavioral Research Program at the National Cancer Institute in the National Institutes of Health. He says vaping is one of the most controversial questions there is right now in the research and policy communities. He adds that you get different answers to questions about vaping depending on where you are in the world. "In the United Kingdom, for example, they are now recommending vaping as a smoking cessation tool, but the data in the U.K. don't look the same as in the U.S. and in other places," Dr. Klein explains. "The data seems to suggest that yes, it is potentially effective as a cessation tool, but at the same time, it's also serving as a gateway for initiators of tobacco use, to get into tobacco use."
Dr. Klein says some young people using vaping devices are getting addicted, putting them on a pathway toward using tobacco products that can include cigarettes and pipes. He continues that while electronic nicotine delivery devices don’t necessarily have the same toxicants found in combustible cigarettes, there are others that are could have negative health effects. Flavorings, for instance, can be problematic when made combustible.
According to Dr. Klein, there is some research into the effects, if any, of second hand vapor, but he thinks that we have a long way to go. "The airline industry, the restaurant industry and other industries aren't even waiting for those data," says Klein. "They're simply saying to people not to smoke cigarettes or electronic nicotine devices."
It’s difficult to say what that science will look like over time, but the National Cancer Institute’s Dr. William Klein thinks the impact on policy will be minimal. Constituents who are concerned about tobacco smoke, he concludes, are just as concerned about vapor.