2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health. A 2014 report from the Surgeon General called the “Health Consequences of Smoking” points out that: more than 10 times as many U.S. citizens have died prematurely from cigarette smoking than have died in all the wars fought by the United States during its history.

Currently, about 18% of adult Americans smoke, that is down from 45% in 1965–a major public health feat. With much to congratulate themselves for in terms of reversing the smoking trend, public health still has work to do. The Department of Health and Human Services has established reducing tobacco use as one of it’s “Winnable Battles,” priorities with large-scale health impacts, which have proven effective strategies to address them.

With that in mind, a closer look at e-cigarettes is warranted. Increasing in popularity, and unregulated in many states, e-cigarettes are promoted as smoking cessation tools. E-cigarettes simulate tobacco smoking by using a battery operated device to vaporize a liquid solution which may or may not contain nicotine. Many argue that they aid in smoking cessation and reduce second hand smoke, however, there are groups, including the World Health Organization and the British Medical Association, who believe there is not enough research to indicate that they are safe and effective.

This week, Stan Glantz, a UCSF researcher and Director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research, published a major review of the scientific literate on e-cigarettes in the journal of the American Heart Association, Circulation. Here are a few key points  taken from the press release submit by Dr. Glantz. (spoiler alert! e-cigarettes might not be entirely harmless and should be regulated!)

While the data are still limited, it can be stated that:

  • E-cigarette emissions “are not merely ‘harmless water vapor,’ as is frequently claimed, and can be a source of indoor air pollution.”
  • E-cigarettes have not been proven to help adults quit smoking
  • While e-cigarettes were originally competing with conventional cigarette companies, all the major cigarette companies are now in the e-cigarette business, and the marketing, aggressive store placement, and political and PR strategies are similar to cigarettes in the 1950s and 1960s.

Are e-cigarettes a helpful tool in the battle against tobaccoo use? We don't know yet, but they certainly aren't a "proven strategy" that the Surgeon General is calling for in the "winnable battle" category.