Medical Net has made available a substantial interview with Peter Hajek on the effectiveness of electronic cigarettes for smoking cessation. It could be invaluable to harm reduction advocates seeking to disseminate scientifically accurate information that presents a positive view of the potential health benefits of vaping. Dr. Hajek is the Director of the Health and Lifestyle Research Unit at Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, Queen Mary University of London.
“The main conclusion is that the limited evidence we have shows that EC (electronic cigarettes) help smokers quit and that over short to mid-term (when used for up to 1.5 years) no safety concerns emerged.”
He calls for more randomised trials with control groups, but laments that such trials are expensive, and likely to be produced only by manufacturers of the products.
“Government bodies which fund medical research are now realising the huge potential benefit EC offer,” he goes on, “and such studies are beginning to appear, but it has been a slow process.”
Dr. Hajek notes that the rising popularity of e-cigs has stalled for the past year or so, and attributes this primarily to the misrepresentation of potential harms. He allows the possibility that all the smokers who are satisfied with the lower nicotine delivery of e-cigarettes have already switched, but does not see this as the primary reason for the flattened growth statistics. It is anti e-cigarette campaigns that are producing this effect, he believes.
Although emerging evidence “continues to confirm that EC are orders of magnitude safer than cigarettes, ... media stories suggesting that the switch is not going to be all that helpful seem to be encouraging smokers to stick to the conventional cigarettes.”
Hajek comments on recent studies included in the Cochrane review, calling the results “impressive”, but wishes more studies with control groups could be performed. He adds that some of the studies were marred by the use of obsolete vaping products.
Although long-term studies of safety issues are slow in coming, for obvious reasons, Hajek sees “little reason to expect that EC use over short to mid-term would pose any health risks” (outside of pregnancy).
He fears, however, that “We are at a danger of squandering a historical public health opportunity.” If harsh controls are imposed, the price advantage of e-cigs will be wiped out, and the product is likely to become exclusively a tobacco industry product, serving only a small niche.
It is to be hoped that this portion of his analysis, anyway, is wide of the mark.