BOSTON -- At least one public health expert is up in arms about a Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) warning that e-cigarettes are not safe because users do not know how much nicotine is consumed per puff. Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the Boston University of Public Health, came out against the warning, calling it “irresponsible advice” and “in a sense, a form of public health malpractice.”
“Any physician who advised a patient unwilling to try [Nicotine Replacement Therapy] to stay on cigarettes rather than switch to electronic cigarettes would perhaps be subject to a malpractice claim,” Siegel wrote in his Tobacco Analyses blog. “Is not delivering such advice on a mass level an example of public health malpractice?”
The DHHS warning in question can be found on a new website devoted to smoking cessation, with information pages on electronic cigarettes. The main problem the agency has with electronic cigarettes is the fact that clinical studies have yet to be conducted by the FDA--and that the evidence so far suggests varying amounts of nicotine in different products.
“When FDA conducted limited laboratory studies of certain samples … FDA found that cartridges labeled as containing no nicotine contained nicotine and that three different electronic cigarette cartridges with the same label emitted a markedly different amount of nicotine with each puff,” reads the DHHS information page on electronic cigarettes.
Siegel staunchly disagrees with such claims, pointing out that inconsistent nicotine delivery does not pose a true risk to e-cigarette consumers and could actually be beneficial to smokers looking to cut back.
“It makes [e-cigarettes] less addictive than regular cigarettes because the consistent delivery of nicotine is one of the factors that makes cigarette smoking so addictive,” Siegel said. “Ineffective delivery of nicotine actually reduces the addictive potential of electronic cigarettes.”
Of course, electronic cigarettes are not marketing themselves as smoking cessation or therapeutic devices, making the department’s claims all the more off-base. “They are being marketed as alternatives to cigarette smoking for smokers concerned about the health damage that is being caused by their smoking,” Siegel pointed out.