The American Heart Association has released a policy statement concerning electronic cigarettes. In this 20 page document the AHA’s team addresses their definition of e cigarettes, provides feedback on how they feel that the products should be regulated, and draws conclusions from a variety of studies and past research. This development is important, as the opinion of a group such as the American Hear t Association will surely be taken into account by federal lawmakers and the public at large.
All in all the American Heart Association does not take a definitive stance on e cigarettes. They do state that they agree with the FDA’s plan to regulate vapor products the same way that they approach tobacco products. Specifically they mention guidelines for: age limitations, advertising restrictions, quality control protocols, and standards for contaminants that exist in e juice or are produced by the vaporization process. They also propose that vapor products and e juices be taxed at the same rate as tobacco cigarettes. They even suggest taxing vapor at this rate, and increasing the tax on traditional smokes. In their opinion all tax proceeds should be applied to anti-smoking, and eventually anti-vaping, campaigns. While this opinion is heavily touted in the document, the authors also point out that vapor does have positives. They specifically state that regulated e cigarettes should be available to current smokers: “Even if there are some intrinsic adverse health effects of e-cigarettes there would be a public health benefit if e-cigarettes proved to be much less hazardous than combustible cigarettes and if smokers could switch entirely from conventional cigarettes to e-cigarettes.”
While at certain points in the document they suggest that smokers first try FDA approved smoking cessation aids like gum or the patch, they point out early in the release that “Spontaneous reports and clinical trial data have reported common minor side effects of throat and mouth irritation, dry cough, nausea, and vomiting. No serious adverse effects have been reported in clinical trials of >6 months of use compared with nicotine patches, with no difference between groups.” This somewhat shaky approach is taken throughout the policy statement. First they say that e cigarettes can be dangerous, likely contain some level of toxins (trace levels is what they cite), and may potentially glamorize smoking and lead to further nicotine dependency. Then in the next breathe they point out the positives of the devices and share facts from studies that place the nicotine level in a person’s blood to be lower after vaping than after smoking an analog on average. They address that it would be beneficial overall if smokers turned to vaping, but then hypothesize that the availability of e cigarettes may lead to more nicotine dependency. They do look at e cigarettes as quitting tools, effective ones at that, but they do not always seem to like doing it.
An emphasis on more research is promoted throughout the statement. While we wholeheartedly agree, the document does share some very interesting facts. For instance, they paint a portrait of your average vaper as being “Generally non-Hispanic whites, current smokers, and those with a higher education and higher income perceive e-cigarettes as being less harmful than combustible tobacco products and are more likely to use them.” This statement is made as a result of reviewing survey and research subjects. While it may be moving in the right direction, it also shows that much of the research that has been done may not account for all populations that exist in the United States. The number of vapers grows every day. With this growth comes a more diverse user base. Did the researchers not target enough non-white vapers? Did they ignore users that do not command high incomes? The point of bringing this up is not to stir up a political debate. The point is to highlight that future research needs to target every segment of society. Smokers are among the ranks of every segment that anyone may care to divide out. Vapers are also, and the numbers are rising as this article is being written. More research is a necessity, but this research must address our society as a whole, and focus on e cigarettes as individual items. If they are likened tobacco cigarettes, even unofficially, it is hard to believe that research will be unbiased.
The document goes on to state that more research on the actual health effects of vaping be performed. This is key in our opinion as well. We want to know if vaping is actually a relatively harmless pastime, or if it just represents a reduction in risk and exposure to carcinogens. This data is what will truly define vaping, and should be the number one consideration when regulations are concerned. In either case we are still on team e cig. So far the major media outlets seem to be interpreting this policy statement on their own. Some outlets are reading it and reporting that the American Heart Association is in fact in favor of vapor. Others are saying that they are not. If you are interested in the future of vaing, we suggest you take the time to read the document. It will likely be used as evidence in future hearings and policy meetings, starting now.