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To another story now, conflicting news about e-cigarettes. A new report from an expert panel concludes that electronic cigarettes might help adult smokers quit. But the National Academies of Sciences panel finds that e-cigarettes might entice teenagers and young adults to experiment or even start smoking tobacco. NPR's Patti Neighmond reports.
PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: Congress asked for this report to try to sort out what's known about the potential benefit and risk of e-cigarettes. Researchers examined more than 800 scientific studies. They found some promise e-cigs could be helpful to adult smokers. David Eaton of the University of Washington chaired the committee.
DAVID EATON: There is some evidence that for people who are currently smokers of combustible tobacco products, cigarettes, that e-cigarettes can help people quit smoking. And that's the beneficial side of these things.
NEIGHMOND: However, it's not known exactly how effective they are compared to other FDA-approved treatments to quit smoking like the nicotine patch or nicotine gum. And there's strong evidence, says Eaton, that e-cigs are helpful only when smokers switch completely from tobacco products to e-cigs. Eaton says the clear concern raised by this report is that when teens and young adults use the e-cigarettes they're more likely to try regular tobacco cigarettes.
EATON: E-cigarettes are addictive. And there is evidence that they can lead to initiation of smoking. And those by themselves right there are reasons that youth should think twice about it.
NEIGHMOND: Shannon Lea Watkins headed one of the 800 studies reviewed by the committee. She's a public policy researcher with the University of California, San Francisco.
SHANNON LEA WATKINS: We found that kids who tried e-cigarettes or hookah or smokeless tobacco or cigars, any non-cigarette tobacco product, were all twice as likely to try cigarettes a year later compared to kids who hadn't used any of those other tobacco products.
NEIGHMOND: And that temptation to try tobacco cigarettes, she says, was easily exacerbated.
WATKINS: Kids who were using two or more non-cigarette products were four times as likely to report using cigarettes a year later.
NEIGHMOND: Most e-cigs, despite their colorful packaging and creative flavors like gummy bear and cotton candy, do contain nicotine, which is known to increase heart rate and blood pressure and is highly addictive. In fact, Watkins says the amount of nicotine in e-cigs is typically comparable to the amount of nicotine found in conventional cigarettes. But Watkins says it's not just the addictive quality of nicotine.
WATKINS: Using these products might change a kid's perception of the harm of cigarettes. And so they are perceived as less dangerous. And they get used to using tobacco. And so using conventional cigarettes is not so scary or, quote, unquote, "bad."
NEIGHMOND: And using e-cigs might change the culture or social group young people are involved with.
WATKINS: It will expose them to different kinds of kids, maybe kids that are already using conventional cigarettes. And then they might go on to try them.
NEIGHMOND: E-cigarettes have been on the market for about a decade. They're largely unregulated, and it's not known exactly how much nicotine or other toxic chemicals are in them. Last year, the FDA established new rules to better oversee e-cigs, along with cigars and hookah tobacco, and banned the sale of any of them to anyone under age 18. Patti Neighmond, NPR News.
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