This does not mean, of course, that vaping is safe. It just means that we don't know what the long-term effects may be. But it is important to stress that at this time, we don't know of any long-term adverse health effects.
The report also concludes that the "second-hand" aerosol produced by vaping is safer than secondhand tobacco smoke, that vaping is less addictive than smoking, that switching from smoking to vaping can improve respiratory function and symptoms in people who have asthma or COPD, and that switching from vaping to smoking reduces health risks across the board. The report concludes that there is evidence that e-cigarettes may cause some short-term, adverse physiological changes and that some e-liquids may generate hazardous chemicals, but it depends largely on the operating conditions of the device.
Finally, the report concludes that experimentation with e-cigarettes is a risk factor for experimentation with tobacco cigarettes and subsequent smoking.
There are several very important implications of the report's conclusions. First, these conclusions mean that all the anti-tobacco groups and state health departments that have been telling the public that vaping is just as bad (or worse) than smoking, that vaping is just as addictive as smoking, that vaping is associated with an increased risk of cancer, heart disease or lung disease, or that there is no evidence that vaping can help smokers quit have been spreading serious misinformation.
The conclusions of the report lend strong support to the legislation being considered by Congress which would scrap the FDA's de facto ban on most e-cigarettes (i.e., the expensive and burdensome pre-market applications) and instead force the agency to promulgate safety regulations for all vaping products.
The bottom line is that it is possible to make e-cigarettes that pose little health risk, but because the FDA has dragged its feet and chosen to take a prohibitionist approach rather than to do its actual job, there continue to be products on the market that are exposing users to unnecessary potential risks, including battery explosions and unwanted chemicals produced by overheating of the e-liquid.
From extensive testing of products like Vuse, Mark Ten and blu e-cigarettes, we know that it is possible to manufacture e-cigarettes that control temperature well enough to avoid the degradation products that result from overheating. We also know that it is possible to manufacture safe batteries that will not explode. But rather than implement such standards, the FDA has instead blocked manufacturers from making their products safer, because any change in their products would require them to take the product off the market until they get an application approved, which could take years.
It is ridiculous that if a company knows its batteries are exploding and causing serious injuries, it cannot fix that problem. Its choices are to either continue marketing defective products or to go out of business. Of course those companies are going to choose to continue marketing the unsafe batteries.
Tobacco control groups and public health agencies who are truly concerned about protecting the public's health should rally behind the use of vaping products for adult smokers as a harm reduction strategy and should channel their concerns about the health risks of vaping among both smokers and nonsmokers by demanding that Congress require the FDA to take immediate action to rescind its pre-market application requirement for vaping products and instead, to promulgate safety and quality control standards for all electronic cigarettes and vaping products.
By Michael Siegel is a professor of community health sciences at Boston University School of Public Health.