An in-progress study from the Yale Tobacco Center on Regulatory Science suggests that electronic cigarette use among young people is growing quickly.
The Yale Center is one of numerous sites undertaking research on behalf of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA does not currently regulate e-cigarettes, but some medical professionals and other groups have begun to advocate more strongly for regulations on these products. As a result, the FDA is eager to increase the body of research knowledge available concerning e-cigarettes. The Yale site was awarded a $20-million grant over the course of five years to conduct its research, and 13 other sites around the country have also received grants to research various aspects of e-cigarette use.
For the last two and a half years, the Yale site has been gathering data from two high schools in Connecticut. The results of this study are currently in the process of being peer reviewed before publication.
However, the results so far show a notable increase in e-cigarette use among the students at the two Connecticut high schools. Between February 2010 and June 2011, the rate of students using e-cigarettes within a 30-day period rose from 0.9 percent to 2.3 percent. The percentage of overall students who had used e-cigarettes at least once during their lives rose from 2.9 percent to 5.7 percent.
The FDA And WHO Ponder E-Cigarette Regulation Restrictions
The FDA is not the only organization considering its policy on e-cigarettes. The World Health Organization is also preparing to make a ruling on e-cigarettes, and that decision will determine whether the sale and advertisement of e-cigarettes will be restricted like other tobacco products.
The WHO decision will regulate e-cigarette policy throughout the 178 countries around the world that have signed the international convention on tobacco. Recently, a group of 53 experts sent a letter to the WHO arguing that e-cigarettes should not be strictly regulated and can be a valuable tool in helping smokers quit tobacco cigarettes. However, attitudes on e-cigarettes are by no means unanimous—129 experts sent a follow-up letter expressing concern over the risks of e-cigarettes.
The United States will not be directly affected by the decision of the WHO since it is not one of the countries that signed the international tobacco convention. However, the decision could set a precedent that gives either e-cigarette proponents or e-cigarette detractors a stronger position when making their arguments to the FDA.
Concerns About Overall Rise In Smoking Rates
One of the arguments that e-cigarette advocates have made is that these products have great potential for helping people quit traditional cigarettes without increasing cigarette use overall. In contrast, critics believe that e-cigarettes could spark a new rise in overall smoking rates and instill the smoking habit in a new generation of young people.
While the rise in e-cigarette use suggested by the Yale study may be cause for concern, it is also far from conclusive. The research does not address overall smoking rates, so it remains unclear whether e-cigarette growth is part of an overall increase in smoking, or whether e-cigarettes are simply replacing traditional cigarettes for growing numbers of young people.
The long-term risks of e-cigarettes are still being researched, and many experts believe that these products are much less harmful than traditional cigarettes. Traditional cigarettes contain upward of 4,000 chemicals, which can be very damaging to long-term health. Electronic cigarettes contain many fewer chemicals, and users do not breathe in the tar and carcinogens found in cigarette smoke. However, critics say that e-cigarettes are far from chemical-free, and that too little is known about the long term impact of the chemicals that remain.
There are also concerns that the “mild” nature of e-cigarettes and the variety of flavors they offer could entice young people who are repelled by the taste and smoke of traditional cigarettes. This could result in more young people developing addictions to tobacco products, and perhaps switching to traditional cigarettes once their habit is well established.
Learn More: Is Hookah Smoking Safer Than Cigarettes?