Based on existing evidence the electronic cigarette carries less than one percent of the risks of regular cigarettes and possible as little of the one tenth of one percent of the danger of normal cigarettes. This is what Dr Joel Nitzkin, Chair of the Tobacco Control Task Force for the American Association of Public Health Physicians, told us in a detailed interview on the electronic cigarette, its safety and thedevastating potential effect of the upcoming tobacco bill.
The estimates of the safety of the electronic cigarettes have been made by comparing them with equivalent substances which also deliver nicotine with tobacco combustion:
“…the safest of the tobacco products are what they call snus. And the literature on snus, which is evaluated on our website, basically shows that in the best of the epidemiological studies available today snus doesn’t increase any cause of death. So that means if there is a health hazard there it is smaller than can be measured with these studies, and with that in mind we would figure that a tobacco product that is delivered with just the nicotine and without any of the other toxic chemicals should be at least as safe.”
There are, Dr Nitzkin admitted, ongoing concerns. In particular, ongoing quality control of the products is required to make sure that the products are not contaminated by cancer causing substances. However, the answer to these concerns is not the tobacco bill which would, by requiring research that is simply not feasible, ensure a defacto ban on products which are at least a hundred times safer than regular cigarettes.
The problem with the research that would be required by the bill is not only the timescale (at least a decade) and the cost (tens of millions) but the risks associated with the trials.
“Now the problems with controlled and clinical trials is that it would be a physical impossibility to do that research. Why would it be physically impossible? Because it would involve recruiting a large number, probably several thousand, non smokers, and then getting them to agree to be randomised into one or two or more groups. One of these groups would smoke cigarettes which clearly poses a severe health hazard, and others would test various smokeless products, including e-cigarettes.”
No American Academic Center, Dr Nitzkin went on to explain, would allow a product that was known to be hazardous but was unlikely to have a therapeutic effect on the patient to be tested. As a result the effect of the tobacco ban will be a permanent ban on electronic cigarettes as well as other alternative products:
“They’ll say well, you can’t sell the cigarettes until you can show you have completed these studies to the satisfaction of the food and drug administration and if the studies are impossible to conduct you simply have the products banned. Period.”
The effects of the ban would be devastating. Dr Nitzkin estimated that if every smoker changed to e-cigarettes the death toll caused by smoking related diseases would eventually fall from 400,000 to between 400-4000.
Even if every man, woman and child in America became addicted to e-cigarettes, the doctor pointed out, using the worst case scenario the death toll would be 20,000 – still a fraction of the current toll.
You can read the full interview here: Electronic Cigarette Interview with Dr Joel Nitzkin.