The news: The science on e-cigarettes isn't conclusive, but the American Heart Association has seen enough to make up its mind. In the organization's first policy statement on e-cigs, the AHA announced that they're concerned e-cigarettes are a "Trojan horse" for creating the next generation of smokers and urged e-cig smokers to only turn to them as a last resort.
"[In] general, the health effects of e-cigarettes have not been well studied, and the potential harm incurred by long-term use of these devices remains completely unknown," write the report's authors.
The report concludes that while current data argues some e-cigarettes appear to be less harmful than traditional cigarettes, in the long run and with more data, it seems these devices probably pose of an overall greater health risk than regular cigarettes. Additionally, e-cigs threaten to maintain or increase the tobacco dependence that has been on the wane between generations.
What do they want to happen? The AHA called for cigarettes to be regulated like tobacco, including preventing minors from buying them and imposing a ban on flavored products. Notably, they also recommend an indoor ban on e-cigarette use, which seems to indicate that the secondhand effects of e-cigs may be just as harmful as their analog counterparts.
However, the AHA is not opposed to all e-cigarette use, according to lead paper author Aruni Bhatnagar:
"If someone refuses to quit, we're not opposed to them switching from conventional to e-cigarettes ... Don't use them indefinitely. Set a quit date for quitting conventional, e-cigarettes and everything else. We don't think that will be the long-term or useful way to look at it because e-cigarettes may continue and fuel nicotine addiction. Nicotine is not innocuous — it's known to be harmful and have cardiovascular effects."
The report cautions that there's little to no evidence that e-cigarettes are a proven cessation tool, citing one study that demonstrated high efficacy but others indicating e-cig smokers continue to smoke regular cigarettes as well as have lower rates of tobacco abstinence.
Mostly, the AHA is concerned about high levels of youth use and is worried that the lack of regulation in the e-cig industry is encouraging marketing to children to build a customer base. Since a large majority of smokers begins before the age of 18, the AHA wants strict regulations to limit their availability to minors.
These concerns are shared by the World Health Organization, which announced Tuesday it is seeking for governments to ban indoor vaping and sales to minors, as well as prohibit e-cigarette manufacturers from making unproven health claims.
What does it mean for me? If you're a fan of e-cigarettes, then the AHA's warning may not mean much (and is prone to misinterpretation). But it's yet another reminder that the science is still very much out on e-cigarettes, which may turn out to be a much less helpful cessation aid or harm reduction technique than the industry claims.
As the scientific consensus develops, there's a good chance that what follows will be tighter regulation of e-cigs, much like the ones targeting regular tobacco. So in the future, there's a good chance vaping in bars and open sales for minors will be going away.