Electronic Cigarettes as a harm reduction strategy for tobacco control: A step forward or a repeat of past mistakes?


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A Summary

Professor Michael Siegel.New study shows electronic cigarettes “undoubtedly” safer than cigarettes

A new study into the electronic cigarette by Zachary Cahn and Professor Michael Siegel in the journal of Public Health Policy argues that the e-cigarette is both safer than cigarettes and more effective than cessation aids.

The article costs $30 dollars to buy, so we summarised it here for you.

What the study says:

We know more about electronic cigarettes than we know about tobacco cigarettes!

Only around 5300 of the chemicals in cigarette smoke have been identified. Other chemicals (up to 100,000) have yet to be identified. In contrast, scientists have already comprehensively identified the components in electronic cigarettes:

“none of the more than 10,000 chemicals present in tobacco smoke, including over 40 known carcinogens, has been shown to be present in the cartridge or vapor of electronic cigarettes in anything greater than trace quality.”

Cohn and Siegel, p. 11

Trace carcinogens similar to NRT aids, hundreds of times lower than cigarettes

Trace levels of TSNAs (a carcinogen found in cigarettes) were found at 0.07 to 0.2% of the levels (500 - 1400 times lower) of those found in cigarettes.

These TSNAs are also found at almost identical levels in FDA approved nicotine patches.

Smoking Cessation & Comparison to Nicorette

No long-term studies prove the e-cigarette will be safe, but short term studies are hopeful.

One indicated that electronic cigarettes deliver nicotine more rapidly than a nicorette inhaler, and that e-cigarettes reduce cravings.

Meanwhile, other studies show that smoking something that appears to be a cigarette (but has no nicotine) is a lot more effective than an NRT product with nicotine.

“...there is now sufficient evidence to conclude that these products are at least capable of suppressing the urge to smoke...There is also reason to believe that they offer an advantage over traditional nicotine delivery devices.”

Siegel and Cohn p.8

No doubt electronic cigarettes are safer

“...they [electronic cigarettes] are undoubtedly safer than tobacco cigarettes.”

Cohn and Siegel, p. 11

We have summarised the main scientific points of the article. Cohn and Siegel also deal with the political arguments, but you will need to download the study for that (see useful links below.)


Cahn Z. and Siegel M. (2010) Electronic Cigarettes as a harm reduction strategy for tobacco control: A step forward or a repeat of past mistakes? Journal of Public Health Policy p. 1-16



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