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Doctors should NOT recommend ecigarettes to smokers – existing treatments are more effective and safer, experts say

  • Existing smoking cessation therapies are ‘more effective than e-cigarettes’
  • New commentary warns of ‘no strong evidence’ e-cigarettes are safe
  • Warn doctors should not be recommending the devices to their patients

E-cigarettes should not be recommended to smokers who are trying to quit their habit, experts today said.

Existing treatments are more effective than the devices in helping people stub out their cigarettes, and there is no strong evidence that e-cigarettes are safe, new research suggests.

The health benefits of quitting smoking are widely accepted.

But, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have taken issue with the suggestion that doctors should routinely recommend e-cigarettes as an alternative.

In a commentary published in today’s Annals of Family Medicine, they say there are professional ethical concerns about doctors who do recommend the devices – warning there is no evidence they are safe.

Professor at the UNC School of Medicine, Adam Goldstein, said: ‘Providers should not routinely recommend e-cigarettes to patients until we have far more data on their safety and effectiveness compared to established, FDA-approved medications.

‘There are very few therapeutic devices that we recommend that aren’t regulated, that have potential and real side effects, and that are addictive.

‘There are safer and more effective smoking cessation products for the same condition.’

The researchers warned of notable safety and health concerns linked to e-cigarettes.

Batteries inside the devices have caught fire or exploded, and particulate matter from e-cigarettes, which has been shown to be present in similar numbers to cigarettes, can increase the risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

The new commentary served as a counterpoint to a paper in the same journal issue by Professor of tobacco addiction, Ann McNeill, at King’s College London, that suggests e-cigarettes are a less harmful way for smokers, including those trying to quit, to use nicotine.

‘Though e-cigarettes are likely not as harmful as conventional cigarettes, a growing number of studies report that they are by no means harmless,’ said Clare Meernik, MPH, a research specialist in the UNC Department of Family Medicine.

‘Short-term effects include exposure to toxins, reduced respiratory and lung function and burn related injuries from exploding devices.’

The researchers also noted that e-cigarettes have been less effective than existing treatments to help people quit smoking.

‘People are focused on should they use ecigarettes or not. We can have a conversation about that, but part of the bigger picture is being lost,’ Professor Goldstein said.

‘And that is that we need be using the tools that we currently have available, including seven FDA-approved medications in combination with behavioral treatment.

‘We have quit lines that provide free counseling and physician counseling to help patients come up with concrete plans for quitting and developing the skills necessary to quit permanently and to increase social support – all of which significantly increase cessation.’

In May the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it was extending its authority over all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.

Greater regulatory oversight of e-cigarettes, the researchers said, will be a significant step forward toward ensuring higher safety standards.

‘We need more data on effectiveness, we need more data on safety, we need technology that’s safe so the products don’t explode, we need to ensure they’re childproof,’ Professor Goldstein said.

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