The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified a new health problem related to electronic cigarettes the risk that the devices themselves or the liquid nicotine that goes into them will cause injury to eyes, skin or other body parts.
Calls to poison control centers to report problems related to e cigarette exposures rose from one per month in September 2010 (when officials started to keep track of such calls) to 215 per month in February 2014, according to a report published Thursday in the CDC s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. During that time, poison control centers fielded a total of 2,405 calls about e cigarette injuries.
To put those numbers into some perspective, the report also notes that during the same period, Americans made 16,248 calls to poison control centers regarding exposures to regular cigarettes. The monthly number of cigarette related calls varied between 301 and 512.
Electronic cigarettes are battery operated devices that deliver users a hit of nicotine in vapor form without the carbon monoxide or tars that come from burning tobacco leaves. The CDC estimates that 10% of American high school students and nearly 3% of middle school students used e cigarettes in 2012.
The authors of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration found records of 9,839 calls involving either regular or electronic cigarettes that included information on the side effects suffered by victims. Among these cases, 58% of calls involving e cigarettes reported some kind of “adverse health effect.” In 68.9% of these cases, people became injured by ingesting something, 16.8% by inhaling something, 8.5% by getting something in their eye and 5.9% by getting something on their skin.
When people were injured by e cigarettes, the most common side effects reported to poison control centers were nausea, vomiting and eye irritation. One person committed suicide by injecting the nicotine solution into his or her veins.
By comparison, only 36% of calls to poison control centers about regular cigarettes reported an adverse health effect and in 97.8% of those cases, the problems were related to ingestion.
Young children were the ones most likely to be harmed by regular cigarettes, with 95% of victims under the age of 6. By comparison, 51% of those harmed by e cigarettes were in that age group, and 42% of victims were over the age of 20.
“This report raises another red flag about e cigarettes the liquid nicotine used in e cigarettes can be hazardous,” Dr. Tom Frieden, the CDC director and a vocal critic of e cigarettes, said in a statement. “Use of these products is skyrocketing and these poisonings will continue.”
The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report noted that the nicotine liquid used in e cigarettes comes in flavors such as fruit, mint and chocolate. That could make them especially appealing to children, but Frieden warned that the liquid cartridges are not required to be sold in childproof containers.
If you’re interested in the latest scientific and medical studies, you like the things I write about. Follow me on Twitter and “like” Los Angeles Times Science & Health on Facebook.
Video Earth has had 26 powerful asteroid explosions in 13 years
That headache excuse is real For females, pain kills sexual desire
Nearly 7 in 10 Americans say health plans should cover birth control
Auto Show for dummies A guide for the vehicularly challenged
Are e-cigarettes a ‘gateway to nicotine addiction’? – health news – nhs choices
On average tobacco smokers die significantly younger and spend more of their shorter lives ill. Because e cigarettes can be marketed to young people, there is a worry that if they did lead to more conventional smoking, they could have a potentially disastrous impact on public health.
This current study does suggest that e cigarettes may not be the harmless alternative some believe, and may be acting as a “gateway drug” to conventional smoking.
However, it does not prove that is the case. It is quite plausible that existing teenage smokers are also trying e cigarettes for a variety of reasons.
The debate about the safety and regulation of e cigarettes is likely to continue until more robust long term evidence emerges.
Where did the story come from?
The study was carried out by researchers from the Center for Tobacco Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco, and was funded by the US National Cancer Institute.
It was published in the peer reviewed medical journal, JAMA Pediatrics.
The Mail Online coverage was balanced and discussed the pros and cons of e cigarettes. It also usefully brought in some wider research from 75,000 Korean adolescents “which also found that adolescents who used e cigarettes were less likely to have stopped smoking conventional cigarettes”.
What kind of research was this?
This was a cross sectional study looking at whether e cigarette use was linked to conventional cigarette smoking behaviour among US adolescents.
E cigarettes are devices that deliver a heated aerosol of nicotine in a way that mimics conventional cigarettes while delivering lower levels of toxins, such as tar, than a conventional combusted cigarette. They are often marketed as a safer alternative to regular smoking, or as a way of helping people quit traditional smoking.
The devices are not currently regulated in the US or the UK, meaning there are limited or vague rules concerning appropriate advertising. The researchers say e cigarettes are being aggressively marketed using the same messages and media channels that cigarette companies used to market conventional cigarettes in the 1950s and 1960s. These include targeting young people to get a new generation of smokers hooked on nicotine for life.
The researchers outline how studies have demonstrated that youth exposure to cigarette advertising causes youth smoking. Meanwhile, electronic cigarettes can be sold in flavours such as strawberry, liquorice or chocolate, which are banned in cigarettes in the US because they appeal to youths.
Given the potential for a new generation to be hooked on nicotine and then tobacco smoking in this unregulated environment, the researchers wanted to investigate whether e cigarettes were associated with regular smoking behaviour in adolescents.
What did the research involve?
The researchers used existing smoking data collected from US middle and high school students in 2011 (17,353 students) and 2012 (22,529) during the large US National Youth Tobacco Survey. They analysed whether use of e cigarettes was linked with conventional tobacco smoking and smoking abstinence behaviour.
The National Youth Tobacco Survey was described as an anonymous, self administered, 81 item, pencil and paper questionnaire that included
- indicators of tobacco use (cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco, kreteks southeast Asian clove cigarettes , pipes, and “emerging” tobacco products)
- tobacco related beliefs
- attitudes about tobacco products
- smoking cessation
- exposure to secondhand smoke
- ability to purchase tobacco products
- exposure to pro tobacco and anti tobacco influences
Smoking behaviour was categorised as
- conventional cigarette experimenters adolescents who responded “yes” to the question “Have you ever tried cigarette smoking, even one or two puffs?”
- ever smokers of conventional cigarettes those who replied “100 or more cigarettes (five or more packs)” to the question “About how many cigarettes have you smoked in your entire life?”
- current smokers of conventional cigarettes those who had smoked at least 100 cigarettes and smoked in the past 30 days
- ever e cigarette users adolescents who responded “electronic cigarettes or e cigarettes, such as Ruyan or NJOY” to the question “Which of the following tobacco products have you ever tried, even just one time?”
- current e cigarette users those who responded “e cigarettes” to the question “During the past 30 days, which of the following tobacco products did you use on at least one day?”
Data on intention to quit smoking in the next year, previous quit attempts and abstinence from conventional cigarettes was also collected. The analysis was adjusted for potential confounding factors such as race, gender and age.
What were the basic results?
The main analysis included 92.0% of respondents (17,353 of 18,866) in 2011 and 91.4% of respondents (22,529 of 24,658) in 2012 who had complete data on conventional cigarette use, e cigarette use, race, gender and age. The mean age was 14.7, and 5.6% of respondents reported ever or current conventional cigarette smoking (of these, 5% currently smoked).
In 2011, 3.1% of the study sample had tried e cigarettes (1.7% dual ever use, 1.5% only e cigarettes) and 1.1% were current e cigarette users (0.5% dual use, 0.6% only e cigarettes).
In 2012, the 6.5% of the sample had tried e cigarettes (2.6% dual use, 4.1% only e cigarettes) and 2.0% were current e cigarette users (1.0% dual use, 1.1% only e cigarettes).
Ever e cigarette users were significantly more likely to be male, white and older. The rates of ever tried e cigarettes and current e cigarette smoking approximately doubled between 2011 and 2012.
The main analysis found use of e cigarettes was significantly associated with
- higher odds of ever or current cigarette smoking
- higher odds of established smoking
- higher odds of planning to quit smoking among current smokers
- among e cigarette experimenters, lower odds of abstinence from conventional cigarettes
How did the researchers interpret the results?
The researchers’ interpretation was clear “Use of e cigarettes does not discourage, and may encourage, conventional cigarette use among US adolescents.”
They added that, “In combination with the observations that e cigarette users are heavier smokers and less likely to have stopped smoking cigarettes, these results suggest that e cigarette use is aggravating rather than ameliorating the tobacco epidemic among youths. These results call into question claims that e cigarettes are effective as smoking cessation aids.”
This study found US adolescents who use e cigarettes are more likely to smoke conventional cigarettes. They also have lower odds of abstaining from conventional cigarettes than those who don’t try e cigarettes. On the flip side, e cigarette users were more likely to report planning to quit conventional smoking.
The research sample was large, so is likely to provide a relatively accurate picture of the smoking behaviour of US adolescents.
These results suggest that e cigarettes may not discourage conventional cigarette smoking in US adolescents, and may encourage it. However, because of the cross sectional nature of the information, it cannot prove that trying e cigarettes causes adolescents to take up conventional smoking. There may be other factors at play.
And indeed, smoking tobacco cigarettes may cause teenagers to take up e cigarettes. For example, the type of person who may want to try smoking in the past could only try conventional smoking. Nowadays, they have e cigarettes as an option too.
Retrospectively trying to work out if they would have taken up conventional smoking had they not tried e cigarettes first is not possible. This question would require a cohort
study that tracks behaviour over time. You would then be able to see which smoking method they took up first and if one led to the other. This was not possible using the data the researchers had to hand in the current study.
Conventional smoking has been a public health priority for many decades because, on average, smokers die significantly younger (more than a decade in some groups) and they spend more of their shorter lives ill. Consequently, any product that may increase the rates of conventional smoking among the young such as e cigarettes has serious and widespread health consequences.
Currently, regulation around e cigarettes is minimal, but there are plans to introduce stricter rules in the UK. In the meantime, this study provides some evidence that e cigarettes may not be the harmless, safe alternative some believe, and may be acting as a gateway drug to conventional smoking.
The research stops short of proving this, so the debate on whether e cigarettes should be treated similarly to conventional cigarettes, through advertising and sales restrictions, is likely to continue.
Analysis by Bazian. Edited by NHS Choices. Follow Behind the Headlines on Twitter. Join the Healthy Evidence forum.