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Study finds switching to e-cigs could save up to 6.6 million lives
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Study finds switching to e-cigs could save up to 6.6 million lives

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Switching from traditional cigarettes to an electronic version could save the lives of up to 6.6 million Americans over the next 10 years, according to researchers from Georgetown and Yale universities.

The researchers said in a study published Monday in the journal Tobacco Control that 6.6 million lives is on the best-case side of the switching scenario, while 1.6 million lives is on the worst-case side.

The study, funded by National Institutes of Health, compares a status-quo scenario with a scenario in which e-cigs and vaporizers largely replace traditional cigarettes over 10 years.

Researchers said they considered the relative harm of vapor products versus cigarettes, as well as the impact of vaping on cessation, switching and new users, including by nonusers.

“Our projections show that a strategy of replacing cigarette smoking with vaping would yield substantial life year gains, even under pessimistic assumptions regarding cessation, initiation and relative harm,” the researchers said in their report.

“An endgame scenario for cigarettes might well be within reach if new technologies for delivering nicotine with substantially less harm, but sufficient satisfaction, are harnessed with sufficient passion and political will.”

As has been the case in most studies reviewing a potential reduced-risk for e-cigs, what these results signify depend on where individuals fall on the anti-tobacco, anti-smoking spectrum.

Some anti-tobacco advocacy groups and Democratic congressional leaders push for banning traditional cigarettes as the lead element of their quit-or-die strategy, eventually getting rid of all nicotine and tobacco products as their endgame.

They claim e-cigs could serve for youths as gateway products to traditional cigarettes — a potential outcome that is under intense debate. They also say that raising tobacco excise taxes, promoting smoke-free public areas and cessation programs have produced more consistent results than e-cigs and vaporizers.

Meanwhile, some studies, including a high-profile one by the Royal College of Physicians, have claimed that e-cigs and vaporizers are up to 95 percent less harmful than traditional cigarettes. The Royal College’s study on traditional cigarettes played a key role in the landmark 1964 surgeon general’s determination on the harmful effects of smoking.

David Levy, a lead researcher and professor of oncology at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, said that “old policies need to be supplemented with policies that encourage substituting e-cigarettes for the far more deadly cigarettes.”

The study comes about two months after Dr. Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, called for a sweeping regulatory “road map” on tobacco and nicotine products.

That included easing some regulations for product innovations, and extending the application deadline for FDA regulatory review for new products, such as e-cigs and vaporizers, from late 2018 to as far out as August 2022.

“This study could represent a seismic shift in the way the FDA and public health groups look at vaping,” said Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association.

“For years, harm-reduction advocates have relied on quality research from independent European researchers and non-government organizations, only to be told that such research was somehow not trustworthy because the authors were not American.

“Now, we have some of the most respected American researchers in the field of tobacco control explaining in detail how vaping can and will save lives,” Conley said.

Conley stressed that under current FDA timing, the study “assumes that a functional vaping market will still exist in a decade.” Some advocates said going through reduced-risk status could cost more than $1 million to go through the application gauntlet.

“We are hopeful that studies like this will give Gottlieb the confidence he needs to truly modernize the way FDA regulates smoke-free nicotine products,” Conley said.

In August, researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and the Rutgers School of Public Health determined that 52 percent of daily e-cig users in a study had quit smoking in the past five years, compared with just 28 percent of adults who had never tried e-cigs.

Researchers said it was one of the first studies “to reveal the patterns of cessation prevalence among e-cigarette users at a national level.” They determined that as e-cig and vaporizer technology evolves, they become easier to use and more effective in becoming a nicotine product option over traditional cigarettes.

However, infrequent e-cig users were less likely to quit cigarettes or likely to be users of both products.

In April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a 26-month study of 15,943 adult cigarette smokers. It was published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

The goal was determining what may be the most effective ways of quitting smoking among 10 common methods.

When it came to a potential smoking-cessation device, substituting some cigarettes with e-cigs (35.3 percent) was used by a greater percentage of smokers than the nicotine patch or gum (25.4 percent) or other cessation aids approved by the FDA, the CDC said.

rcraver@wsjournal.com 336-727-7376 @rcraverWSJ

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