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E-Cigarettes pave the road to quitting, though only as last resort

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Smoking is out, e-cigarettes are in.

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, have become a popular alternative to unhealthy, conventional cigarettes.

Now, the American Heart Association is acknowledging electronic cigarettes as a way to help smokers quit, if other methods for quitting fail. Previous research is spilt with some studies showing that e-cigarettes are as good, if not better than, nicotine patches, and some studies saying that there is not enough evidence to show that e-cigarettes help smokers quit smoking.  

The organization also acknowledged that e-cigarettes are not proven by the FDA to be a good tool for quitting smoking. Organization officials fear the lack of regulation could lead to more serious public health consequences.  

Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine in a vaporized form and can therefore lead to a nicotine addiction.

The AHA is advocating for more regulation on e-cigarettes, especially for regulations involving minors. It is recommending a ban on e-cigarettes for minors since they are considered another way of smoking, and smoking e-cigarettes could become a gateway to other tobacco products.

"E-cigarettes have caused a major shift in the tobacco control landscape," said Aruni Bhatnagar, lead author of a study regarding e-cigarette marketing. "It's critical that we rigorously examine the long-term impact of this new technology on public health, cardiovascular disease and stroke, and pay careful attention to the effect of e-cigarettes on adolescents."

Currently, the only e-cigarettes that are regulated by the FDA are the ones that are supposed to be therapeutic.

The new policy statement recommends that e-cigarettes that contain nicotine should be treated no differently than other tobacco products under the existing laws.

Though e-cigarettes contain fewer toxic substances than conventional cigarettes, they're still dangerous as a means of second-hand nicotine exposure. The AHA recommends that the laws banning smoking from public areas should also apply to e-cigarettes.

The association also recommends that more research should be done into the health effects of e-cigarettes, and regardless, e-cigarettes need to be regulated for minors especially in light of recent spikes in exposure to e-cigarette marketing.

"These disturbing developments have helped convince the association that e-cigarettes need to be strongly regulated, thoroughly researched and closely monitored," said AHA CEO Nancy Brown.  

The AHA does say that e-cigarette smoking should not be the first method to try to help smokers quit smoking and physicians should warn patients that e-cigarettes are unregulated and not FDA-approved as an official method to help quit smoking.

Experts debate on whether it is more beneficial to society to push smokers towards less dangerous forms of smoking with the hope that they will transition away from smoking all together, or if these nicotine-containing, addictive products have no room in the US market.

Though smoking has decreased over the last several years, about 20 percent of Americans still smoke. 

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