Study: Are E-Cigarettes Causing Smokers to Light Up or Burn Out?

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Are e-cigarettes helping or hurting the crusade to drive down the number of smokers in the U.S.? That’s still a question that health experts and researchers are trying to answer. The results of one study, conducted by Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, suggest that e-cigarettes are leading to less quitting, not more, which is a significant issue, considering more youth and adults are now using them.

The Columbus Dispatch highlighted the study, which was published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics on Thursday, and the publication outlined Glantz’s findings that middle school and high school students who used electronic cigarettes were more likely to smoke real cigarettes and less likely to quit than students who did not use the devices. The students with the e-cigarettes were also more likely to smoke heavily, leading the study to conclude, “The use of e-cigarettes does not discourage, and may encourage, conventional cigarette use among U.S. adolescents.”

The study’s findings that Glantz drew from federal survey data from more than 17,000 middle school and high school students in 2011 and more than 22,000 students in 2012, according to the Dispatch, are significant because an increasing number of the nation’s 45 million smokers are relying on electronic cigarettes as a vehicle to eventually help them quit. The possibility that the cigarettes could encourage more smoking, rather than discourage it, is an alarming one.

This especially rings true for young people, the group that accounts for 3 million of the nation’s smokers. More and more of these adolescents are turning to e-cigarettes for the purpose of helping them quit, but if Glantz is right and the devices are only furthering the nicotine addiction rather than minimizing it, then there indeed is a problem.

But other researchers say it’s not that simple, and electronic cigarettes might not be to blame. According to the Dispatch, the experts who didn’t agree with Glantz’s conclusion maintained that just because e-cigarettes are being used by young adults who smoke more and have a harder time quitting doesn’t mean that the devices are the problem. Rather, the smokers could be the problem, especially if those studied were heavier smokers to begin with or would have become heavy smokers either way.

Thomas J. Glynn, a researcher at the American Cancer Society, said to the Dispatch, “The data in this study do not allow many of the broad conclusions that it draws.”

The differing opinions of experts illuminates the ongoing debate over the real value of electronic cigarettes, revisiting the initial question of are they hurting or helping? Originally patented in 1963, the regulation of e-cigarettes has been a hot topic of debate because, like Glantz, many believe they carry a risk of developing nicotine addiction, but others still fight for the opposite conclusion. What’s more, things only grew more complicated when, last year, according to the Dispatch, a large federal survey found that the overwhelming majority of young people who use e-cigarettes also smoke real cigarettes. This makes it hard to effectively place a value on the devices.

So will Glantz’s latest findings advance any of the current discussions regarding e-cigarettes’ regulation? That much is still up for debate.

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