Doctors and regulators aren’t really sure what to think about e-cigarettes. The battery-powered, nicotine-vaporizing devices are almost certainly healthier than regular smokes. But the shoddy construction of many e-cigs on the market could create other toxic fumes. Plus, if they’re seen as harmless, they could become a gateway vice, fueling nicotine addiction among people who otherwise might not smoke.
But for hardcore smokers, at least, they’re better than nothing, says the American Heart Association, a leading health advocacy group, in a statement today.
For patients who repeatedly fail at quitting smoking—or who refuse accepted smoking-cessation medication—”it is reasonable to support the attempt” to use e-cigarettes as a last-ditch step, says the group in a memo written to counsel doctors.
Aruni Bhatnagar, lead writer of the statement, says there’s no conclusive evidence that e-cigs are safe. Nor should doctors should actively encourage their use.
“If people cannot quit at all and have tried everything in the field, we would not discourage them,” Bhatnagar told Bloomberg. “It’s not something that we would suggest…. We do not know for sure and the jury is still out whether or not these e-cigarettes are safe to use, so we do not say that they’re safe.”
The announcement comes as the sale of e-cigarettes have abruptly slowed. Sales in the four weeks ended May 18 fell 3% versus the same period in 2013, with sales down even more in June. If doctors follow the AHA’s guidelines and support swapping paper smokes for plastic, that could change.