As electronic cigarettes have transitioned in only a few years from novelty devices to a $2.5 billion industry, many questions regarding their safety and overall effects are concerning both users of these devices as well as regulators. But while the tobacco industry, consumers and public health advocates continue to wait on the FDA (for over 5 years) to answer some of their questions, many studies have been recently under way that either want to find scientific information or promote a preferred regulatory conclusion.

man vaping ecig One such survey assessed by researchers at UNC School of Medicine analyzed physicians’ attitudes toward e-cigarettes as a potential smoking cessation product for adult smokers. It shows that around 67% of the 128 physicians’ surveyed believe e-cigarettes to be a helpful aid for smoking cessation, 65% believe these devices present a lower risk of cancer than traditional cigarettes, while 35% recommended them to some of their patients.

This is happening despite the fact that the Food and Drug Administration has not approved or recommended any electronic cigarette as a smoking cessation product. None of the Big 3 manufacturers – Imperial (blu eCigs), Philip Morris USA (MarkTen) and Reynolds American Inc. (Vuse) – sells their e-cigarette brands as smoking cessation alternatives even as each has national distribution of their product. ‘Yet, e-cigarettes appear to play a substantial role in tobacco users’ cessation attempts,’ the UNC researchers said.

The UNC researchers believe FDA regulation ‘will help ensure patients receive evidence-based recommendations about the safety and efficacy of e-cigarettes in tobacco cessation.’

‘Physicians should remain cautious until more data is available about recommending e-cigarettes as tobacco cessation tools in clinical practice in favor of more effective modalities,’ the UNC research team.

They believe that part of the caution comes from finding in other research studies that indicate e-cigs serving as a gateway to traditional tobacco use, or as a way to avoid public smoking bans. ‘Without widespread dissemination of clear, evidence-based research on e-cigarettes, it is likely these discrepancies will continue, and patients could potentially be given inaccurate information,’ the UNC researchers said.

R.J. Reynolds is backing a study to determine what possible hazards there are in the vapor smoke emanated from an e-cigarette compared with their combustible counterpart. The study began in May with 72 participants at Clinical Research Atlanta and is expected to last until December.

‘Long-term health effects of e-cigs are unknown, but compared with cigarettes, they are likely to be much less, if at all, harmful to users or bystanders,’ the researchers said in the study in Addiction.

The team said that although electronic cigarette use is increasing, ‘to date, there is no evidence of regular use by never-smokers or by non-smoking children. They enable some users to reduce or quit smoking.’