WASHINGTON -- In what claims to be the first nationally representative study to look at awareness and prevalence of electronic cigarettes, the American Journal of Public Health said that 40.2% of Americans have heard of e-cigarettes and more than 70% believe they are less harmful than regular cigarettes. In addition, current smokers are more likely to use e-cigarettes than nonsmokers.
While proponents claim e-cigarettes are a harm-reducing alternative to smoking, scientists have raised concerns about the need for regulation of what they call Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS), as well as how they might affect smokers who are trying to quit or attract nonsmokers who might be willing to try a "high-tech" approach to nicotine intake or be attracted by the availability of different flavors.
"The data suggest that younger smokers are more likely to have ever tried an e-cigarette," said Jennifer Pearson, PhD, Research Investigator at the Schroeder Institute at Legacy, an anti-tobacco foundation, which conducted the study. "We don't know why younger smokers are more likely to try e-cigarettes, but this highlights the need for more information on the health and behavioral consequences of exclusive 'vaping' and dual use with combustible tobacco products."
Researchers from Legacy and its Steven A. Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research & Policy Studies looked at results on e-cigarette awareness, use and harm perceptions from more than 6,000 adult participants in two national surveys.
"We found that, while overall e-cigarette use is still relatively low, awareness of e-cigarettes is high," Pearson said.
Current smokers are several times more likely to have tried an e-cigarette than nonsmokers, it said. The researchers said there could be various reasons for this, including that e-cigarettes are perceived as safer than regular cigarettes, are used as cessation devices or are used to avoid smoke-free indoor air laws.
E-cigarettes are constructed to mimic real cigarettes in size and appearance, but contain no tobacco leaf. Though individual brands vary in construction, the products generally produce a propylene glycol mist containing nicotine along with flavorings and other chemicals.
In response to a 2010 court decision, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) signaled that it will move to regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products rather than drug delivery devices; however, these products are as yet unregulated, said Legacy.