Amidst the controversy surrounding e-cigarettes or electronic devices that let smokers inhale a vaporised liquid nicotine solution, and the lack of approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a new study finds that 67% of physicians believe e-cigarettes can help patients stop smoking. Nearly 36% of these physicians recommend them to their patients.
The study was published in PloS One and was conducted by Kelly Kandra, PhD. from the Department of Psychology and Sociology, Benedictine University, Lisle, Illinois and her colleagues. The results were collected through an email survey sent out to a random sample of 787 physicians in North Carolina. 128 physicians responded to the survey.
Most of the respondents believed that e-cigarettes help lower the risk for cancer in patients and are a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes. Nearly 48.4% of physicians reported that their patients ask them about e-cigarettes frequently or sometimes.
While the results from this study may be limited due to the small sample size in a single state, there is no doubt that there are several believers of e-cigarettes. Dr. Darl Rantz, MD, and a solo family practitioner in Macon, Georgia, told Medscape Medical News that he recommends e-cigarettes for all his smoking patients over the age of 18.
According to him, the potential benefit is worth the risk from any toxins as they are a fraction of the known toxins in cigarettes. Cigarettes cause 480,000 deaths per year and he believes that there is absolutely no logic in outlawing a product that could potentially help people to quit smoking. “Even if it only works in 10% of the population, you’ve just saved 10% of the [smoking] population’s life, and you cut my healthcare budget, “says Rantz.
However, there is another school of doctors who believe that the safety of e-cigarettes is unclear and since nicotine patches and nicotine gum have been approved by the FDA, they should be considered as first-line treatments in any tobacco cessation effort.
According to Leah Ranney, PhD. from the Department of Family of Medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and the Associate Director of the Tobacco Prevention and Evaluation Program at University of North Carolina, “without knowing the information or having rigorous research behind it, we leave ourselves open, with making these recommendations, to being incorrect,”
Dr. Ari Gilmore, a family practitioner at Pacific Medical Centre in Seattle, Washington was also not in favour of using e-cigarettes. He revealed that in his experience, patients are not quitting but are instead smoking both regular and e-cigarettes. He fears that e-cigarettes may actually reduce the chances of quitting in the long-term.
While there is no definite conclusion to this debate, one thing is for sure: physicians need more guidance with respect to the long term safety and effectiveness of e-cigarettes. Consensus on their use may only be achieved with a ruling or official recommendation from the FDA.