The American Heart Association (AHA) unveiled its first policy statement about e-cigarettes on August 26, calling for more regulation of the product and more research about its health impacts. The statement was written by a group of scientists, physicians, and researchers, including Dr. Kurt Ribisl, health behavior professor at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and member of the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products.
Dr. Ribisl also directs one of 14 Tobacco Centers of Regulatory Science (TCORS), based at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, where he is program leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program.
Powered by batteries, e-cigarettes heat a liquid containing nicotine, a stimulant derived from tobacco. Users inhale the resulting vapor, a process often called ‘vaping.’ In less than 10 years, annual product sales are around $2 billion.
In the policy statement, published online in the AHA’s journal, Circulation, AHA president Dr. Elliott Antman said that e-cigarettes may help some people quit smoking, but the AHA recommends them only as a last resort.
“Health care professionals, when discussing plans for quitting tobacco with patients, should first emphasize using approved and tested cessation aids,” Dr. Antman said. “If those do not work, a conversation should be started with the patient emphasizing the lack of long-term safety of e-cigarettes and the inadequate regulation – which means patients do not know always know for sure what’s in the product they purchase. Only after that conversation, with a full understanding of the risks, should the patient use e-cigarettes to try to quit.”
Dr. Antman encouraged patients to set a quit date, because the goal is to be free of all tobacco products. “We want to avoid dual use where both e-cigarettes and regular combustible tobacco cigarettes are both used,” he said.
Dr. Ribisl said that while it’s good that there is a difference between the e-cigarette and traditional taxes, especially in North Carolina, the e-cigarette tax was set too low to discourage use of the device.
“For a state that has not yet taxed e-cigarettes, they should enact a tax, and it should be at a high enough rate to discourage youth from starting to use e-cigarettes,” Dr. Ribisl said. “They also should tax them at a lower rate than cigarettes and other combusted products.”
Among Dr. Ribisl’s most recent tobacco-related publications are two articles he co-authored with Gillings School alumni Drs. Jessica Pepper and Shyanika Rose. The articles appear in the July issue of the journal Tobacco Control.