Are E-Cigarettes A Potential Smoking Cessation Tool?

Mar 27, 2014
Originally published on March 25, 2014 3:44 pm

We heard from many Here & Now listeners who praised e-cigarettes for helping them quit traditional tobacco smoking.

Tom Glynn, director of Cancer Science and Trends at the American Cancer Society, says he’s intrigued by the promise of using e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool, but the scientific evidence – and the FDA – do not yet support the practice.

Guest

  • Tom Glynn, director of Cancer Science and Trends at the American Cancer Society.
Copyright 2014 WBUR-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wbur.org.

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

So new concerns about e-liquids. And as we said, ongoing concerns about e-cigs. But listeners like Scott Clark(ph) told us they helped him quit a 35-year smoking habit. Let's bring in Tom Glynn, director of Cancer Science and Trends at the American Cancer Society. Tom, what do you say to that?

TOM GLYNN: Well, I did see the responses to the show, and they're absolutely fascinating. I think one thing they do is demonstrate the need for better methods of helping people quit smoking. But, you know, we have about 42 million smokers in the country. About 70 percent of them want to quit. That's a market of more than 30 million people.

YOUNG: And just remind us, 250 types of e-cigs unregulated.

GLYNN: Absolutely. It's - you know, I use various terms. Wild West is one of them, trying to thread a moving needle with sunglasses on is another. E-cigarettes are a very difficult thing to pin down right now, and that's one of the issues that the Food and Drug Administration is working on, is to come up with a regulation.

YOUNG: Well, so where does American Cancer Society stand?

GLYNN: Our position on e-cigarettes are that they're intriguing. In the short run, we know that they are going to be less harmful than a traditional burn cigarette; there's virtually nothing that is more harmful than a traditional burn cigarette. And they may have a role in helping some smokers stop.

But there are many scientific medical and social questions still surrounding e-cigarettes, and at this point we can't actively encourage their use until we have more independent science-based information and FDA regulation.

YOUNG: Well, do you worry that some of the research that exists now is supported by the tobacco industry and that some see this as a way for the tobacco industry to slide from tobacco cigarettes to e-cigs?

GLYNN: Well certainly the entry of the tobacco industry into the e-cigarette space is troubling at best. Before the tobacco industry moved in, and we had independent e-cigarette companies, their job basically was to sell e-cigarettes, which as I mentioned in some cases can help people stop. But with the tobacco industry coming in, we really don't know what their motivations are.

Is it to squash e-cigarettes? Is it to get people to use e-cigarettes at the same time they're smoking, so-called dual use? The tobacco industry has absolutely a long history of deception. So we can't expect anything other than that from the tobacco industry.

YOUNG: Well, this isn't helping the listeners who wrote to us complaining that we were only hearing one side of e-cigs. It sounds like you have some caution, as well. But is there any research that is promising on the use of e-cigs as a way to stop cigarette smoking?

GLYNN: Absolutely, and that's what makes this such a difficult, vexing problem is that we have information on both sides of the issue. So, you know, it's difficult to say use e-cigarettes. At the same time, it's also difficult to say don't use e-cigarettes when we have such a problem with the combusted cigarette.

For instance there was a very well-done study in New Zealand about a year ago, which demonstrated that e-cigarettes were about as useful as the nicotine patch in helping people stop smoking. Now that study, because of the speed at which research is being done now, is already probably out of date because it was using a kind of e-cigarette that is not advanced as current e-cigarettes.

So it's - certainly there are positive data concerning e-cigarettes, as well as negative.

YOUNG: Well on the other hand, there are seven FDA-approved medications to stop smoking. I want to hear your thoughts on those. But as you know from reading the comments, there are a lot of people who are suspicious about that. There's a lot of money to be made here, as you pointed out. And they suspect, you know, somebody's got more of an interest in an FDA-approved medication than the e-cig that they might want.

GLYNN: I've seen that argument for many years, and it's just simply not the case. The FDA approved medications, all seven of them, there's five nicotine replacement products, as well as two prescription products, they have been moderately useful. They help maybe on the first try, maybe 10 to 15 percent of people quit smoking. People then need to recycle and try again, and they become more useful particularly if they're used correctly.

The limited data suggests that e-cigarettes are probably in the same range as the nicotine replacement products and the other two medications. So the question then arises: If they're about equal, why use something that hasn't been approved by the FDA? On the other hand, if they haven't proved useful to someone, clinicians are not discouraging people from it but basically saying do so with your eyes open.

There is nothing more dangerous than smoking a burned cigarette. It kills half the people who use it. And the American Cancer Society would like nothing more than to have another tool to help people stop using burned cigarettes. E-cigarettes may be that, and their derivatives, but we don't know for sure right now.

YOUNG: Tom Glynn, director of Cancer Science and Trends at the American Cancer Society. Dr. Glynn, thanks so much.

GLYNN: Thank you.

YOUNG: Well meanwhile today, a smokers lobbying group in New York says they will sue that city over its ban on e-cigs. Some cities like New York, Los Angeles, ban e-cigarettes everywhere real cigarettes are banned. So the debate over e-cigs continues. Let us here from you at hereandnow.org. As you can see, we listen. You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.