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E-cigarettes may be unsafe, but could work as a last-ditch way to quit smoking

us united states gateway vice addiction smoking nicotine tobacco philip morris aha american heart association cancer heart disease lung cancer stroke e-cigarette Scott Fraser, vice president of SBT (holdings) Co Ltd., demonstrates an 'e-cigarette', which activates light and vapour, in Hong Kong May 9, 2007. Golden Dragon (Holdings) Ltd, which controls SBT, purveyors of the world's first "electronic cigarette", expects sales to double in 2007 as it expects overseas and some of China's legion of smokers try to kick the habit. The battery-powered, cigarette-shaped devices that deliver nicotine when inhaled and otherwise hope to emulate the smoking experience -- can find a market as tobacco substitutes, for health or pleasure. REUTERS/Bobby Yip
Reuters/Bobby Yip
Better than the real thing, says the American Heart Association.
By Gwynn Guilford
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

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.

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