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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Texas A&M: Evaluating Evidence – Researchers investigate Public Health Agency Stances on E-cigarettes

A study in the American Journal of Public Health, by Dr. Amy Fairchild, of the Texas A&M School of Public Health, Columbia University researcher Dr. Ronald Bayer, and School of Public Health doctoral candidate Ju Sung Lee explored how recent public health studies in the U.S. & UK reached conclusions on e-cigarette use.

In 2018 the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) and Public Health England (PHE) both released evaluations of the current body of evidence on e-cigarette use. Although some have considered these reports as more or less consistent — e-cigarettes can help in harm reduction — their conclusions on what the evidence indicates and what should count as evidence stand in stark contrast.

The main difference between the reports turn on a key question: whose risk is of central concern, current smokers or non-smokers and children? The PHE report focused more on reducing risks to smokers whereas the NASEM was concerned more with protecting the innocent children and bystanders. Research has found that e-cigarettes are less harmful than conventional tobacco and that they could be useful for harm reduction or for helping smokers quit entirely; however, there are concerns that e-cigarettes may lead young non-smokers, particularly teens, to begin consuming nicotine and step on a pathway that will lead to smoking.

The differences in what counts as evidence regarding e-cigarettes hinge on the main focuses of the two public health agencies, with NASEM and the FDA focused on protecting nonsmokers and preventing young people from accessing e-cigarettes and PHE most centrally concerned with reducing harm to current smokers.