PITTSBURGH and BOSTON -- Proponents of electronic cigarettes have been up in arms about the inconsistencies in last week's study on electronic cigarettes conducted by the Schroeder Institute at Legacy – starting with Legacy's declaration to be the nation's first study on the awareness of electronic cigarettes.
"Legacy's claim that this is the first national survey is false," executive director of Smokefree Pennsylvania Bill Godshall told Tobacco E-News, noting that the CDC conducted a similar survey on electronic cigarettes in 2010.
However, experts had more pressing concerns than whether or not it was truly the first electronic-cigarette study.
"Legacy's press release provides no more details of its survey findings, but contains lots of false and misleading anti e-cigarette propaganda," said Godshall.
Some of the larger false or misleading claims cited by Godshall include Legacy's description of e-cigs as "drug-delivery devices," despite the fact that they've been legally classified as tobacco products; that e-cigs "are used to avoid smoke-free indoor air laws"; and a claim that dual use of e-cigs and cigarettes is more hazardous than exclusive cigarette smoking.
As a result, the paper's conclusion states "we also need FDA premarket testing of ENDS (Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems) for safety and effectiveness to protect public health and validate claims of safety and efficacy." In other words, the Legacy paper calls for a ban of electronic cigarettes until the FDA regulates them as smoking cessation devices--something the FDA is not legally allowed to do, as electronic cigarettes have been classified not as cessation devices, but tobacco products.
This call for a ban is disturbing to Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the Boston University of Public Health.
"This conclusion has nothing to do with any data presented in the paper," Siegel wrote in his Tobacco Analyses blog. "If anything, the data actually presented in the paper point to the promise of electronic cigarettes as a harm reduction strategy in tobacco control."
For example, the Legacy survey found that "40.2% of Americans have heard of e-cigarettes and over 70% believe they are less harmful than regular cigarettes." Siegel believes such a strong awareness of the product "speaks to its likely usefulness to smokers in keeping away from tobacco cigarettes." Additionally, the study also confirmed that e-cigs are primarily used by cigarette smokers as a safer alternative or in an effort to reduce or quit using tobacco products completely.
"All of these findings, taken together, suggest that electronic cigarettes have great promise as a harm reduction and smoking reduction/cessation strategy," said Siegel. "However, there is nothing in the findings of the paper that speaks to the need to take the product off the market because of safety concerns or demonstrated hazards."
Siegel does agree that the FDA will need to regulate e-cigarettes to ensure the quality of the products and to keep them away from underage smokers--the same way the FDA regulates tobacco products. However, the fact that the authors of the Legacy paper have essentially called for a ban of electronic cigarettes is extremely to perplexing to Siegel.
"The article draws a major conclusion which lacks supportive evidence and which has no relation to the findings actually reported in the paper," Siegel concluded.