New research published Thursday by New York University suggests vaping is a safer option than smoking cigarettes, and smokers switching could prevent 6.6 million early deaths.
Researchers at NYU’s College of Global Public Health report that less harmful smoking methods successfully reduce deaths, according to the study, which was published online in the Annual Review of Public Health.
An approach called harm minimization recognizes that switching to safer nicotine products — including e-cigarettes, nicotine gums, patches and lozenges — is beneficial to health, though not as effective as quitting smoking altogether.
“Harm minimization is a pragmatic approach that can complement proven current tobacco control efforts of prevention and cessation,” researchers write in the study. “Its primary goal is to move the whole population of smokers of toxic combusted tobacco products to exclusive use of much safer products as quickly and as early as possible in their individual smoking careers.”
Dr. David Abrams, a professor of social and behavioral sciences at NYU College of Global Public Health, said studies show the alternative approach reduces mortality.
“If most current American smokers switched to vaping e-cigarettes over the next 10 years, there could be as many as 6.6 million fewer premature deaths and 86.7 million fewer life years would be lost,” he said in a press release.
“The safest course is to stop smoking or, better, never to start. But a harm minimization approach recognizes that demanding absolute perfection is often counterproductive and that, when a harmful behavior cannot be eliminated, we can still dramatically reduce adverse health consequences.”
Abrams notes that nicotine itself causes few, if any, of the harms that smoking does — but cigarettes also include a lethal mix of carbon monoxide and 70 known cancer-causing chemicals.
The researchers note that cigarettes are the most appealing, most addictive and most toxic of all nicotine products. Gum and patches are lowest in harm, but they are expensive and less appealing to consumers, researchers said.
The researchers, however, call e-cigarettes a “sweet spot” of high appeal and satisfaction, and lower in harm. They note that e-cigarettes are now used more often than nicotine replacement therapies when smokers try to quit in the United States and the Britain.
“A smoker who finds an e-cigarette that is enjoyable can switch,” Abrams said. “Successful switchers have either switched quickly or slowly after a period of both vaping and cutting back on smoking and by trying a flavor other than tobacco.”
In July 2017, the Food and Drug Administration announced it was recognizing the role of less harmful products for smokers who want a satisfying alternative to smoking cigarettes.
“Nicotine, though not benign, is not directly responsible for the tobacco-caused cancer, lung disease and heart disease that kill hundreds of thousands of Americans each year,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said at the time.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 16 million Americans are living with a disease caused by smoking, including cancer, heart disease, lung diseases, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
According to the CDC, cigarette smoking causes 480,000 deaths per year in the United States, including more than 41,000 deaths from secondhand smoke exposure — and smokers die an average of 10 years earlier than nonsmokers.
In all, the total economic cost of smoking is more than $300 billion a year, including $170 billion in direct medical care for adults and more than $156 billion in lost productivity.
“Alternative nicotine delivery systems, such as e-cigarettes, have the potential to disrupt the 120-year dominance of the cigarette and challenge the field on how the tobacco pandemic could be reversed if nicotine is decoupled from lethal inhaled smoke,” Abrams said.
“E-cigarettes could provide a means to compete with, and even replace, cigarette use, saving more lives more rapidly than previously possible.”