Widespread E-Cig Use Despite Little Understanding of Health Effects

Electronic cigarettes most prevalent among young smokers who have tried to quit

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs, have been marketed as the "healthy" alternative to regular cigarettes. However, new research questions whether people really are aware of the effects of e-cigs on their health.

A recent study found that people who were most likely to have ever tried an electronic cigarette were current smokers, people between the ages of 15 and 24 years old and people who had attempted to quit smoking.

The researchers discovered that many people did not know whether or not electronic cigarettes were harmful to their health. These researchers concluded that more research is needed on the health impacts of electronic cigarettes.

"Discuss the potential risks of electronic cigarettes with a doctor."

The lead author of this study was Constantine I. Vardavas, MD, MPH, RN, PhD, from the Clinic of Social and Family Medicine in the School of Medicine at University of Crete in Heraklion, Greece, and the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences in the Center for Global Tobacco Control at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts.

The study included 26,566 people aged 15 years and older who took the 2012 Eurobarometer 385 survey between February 25 and March 12 in 2012.

The participants were from 27 different countries in the European Union.

Fifty-one percent of the participants reported that they never smoked, 28 percent of the participants were current smokers and 21 percent of the participants were ex-smokers.

The researchers asked the participants if they had ever heard of electronic cigarettes, had ever tried e-cigs, how often they used e-cigs and whether or not e-cigs were more or less harmful than regular cigarettes.

The participants who identified as current smokers were then asked if they had tried to quit smoking within the past year, and whether or not they had used e-cigs to help them quit.

The findings showed that 20 percent of the current smokers, 5 percent of the ex-smokers and 1 percent of the never smokers reported having ever used an e-cig.

The participants who were current smokers were 10.63 times more likely to have used an e-cig compared to the participants who were never smokers.

Among the current smokers, age was determined to be the most significant predictor of e-cig use, with those between the ages of 15 and 24 years old being 3.13 times more likely to have used an e-cig compared to the current smokers aged 55 years and older.

In addition, the current smokers between the ages of 25 and 29 years old were twice as likely to have used e-cigs compared to those 55 years old and older.

The researchers discovered that the current smokers who smoked 6 to 10 cigarettes per day had 53 percent increased odds of having ever used an e-cig compared to the current smokers who smoked five or less cigarettes per day.

Smoking 11 to 20 cigarettes per day was associated with two-fold increased odds of ever having used an e-cig versus smoking five or less cigarettes per day.

The findings revealed that the 4 percent of the current smokers had used e-cigs in an attempt to quit smoking within the year prior to the survey.

Those who had attempted to quit smoking cigarettes within the year prior the survey were 2.08 times more likely to have ever used e-cigs compared to the smokers who had not tried to quit smoking in the past year.

Among the ex-smokers, age was the only significant predictor of e-cig use, with the younger participants being more likely to have tried e-cigs than the older participants.

The researchers found that four out of ten participants saw e-cigs as being harmful to their health, whereas one-third of the participants were unsure whether they were harmful or not.

Dr. Vardavas and team then applied the percentages of current, ex and never smokers who had ever used e-cigs to the entire population of the European Union and estimated that approximately 29.3 million European smokers over the age of 15 years old have used an e-cig at least once.

This widespread used of e-cigs highlights the need for future research on the potential long term impact of e-cigs on health, as well as their role in helping people quit smoking concluded the researchers.

The study was limited because all data was based off of self-report. In addition, the Eurobarometer 385 survey was cross-sectional so the researchers could not definitively claim that smoking cigarettes caused smokers to use e-cigs or not.

This study was published on June 16 in Tobacco Control.

Review Date: 
June 16, 2014
Last Updated:
June 17, 2014