The findings of study, led by Dr. David Levy of Georgetown University Medical Center, were published Tuesday in the peer-review journal Tobacco Control.
Dr. Levy and his colleagues sought to evaluate the health impact of switching people from traditional cigarettes to electronic cigarettes, which heat a nicotine liquid and create a vaporized smoke for the user to exhale.
The researchers started with a Status Quo Scenario that projected the health outcomes from current smoking rates. In an “optimistic scenario,” cigarette use was replaced with vaping and health outcomes were adjusted. Of the results, the researchers projected that switching all smokers to vaping products would result in 6.6 million fewer premature deaths, with a combined 86.7 million fewer years lost.
In the “pessimistic scenario,” with smoking rates and interventions continuing as they are, there would be 1.6 million fewer deaths and 20.8 million fewer life years lost.
“Harms from cigarette smoking remain unacceptably high even though smoking prevalence in the USA has decreased markedly over the past 50 years,” the researchers wrote in their introduction.
The medical community has not fully evaluated the health effects of e-cigarettes — or vaping — but some say that the devices, by not burning like traditional cigarettes made of tar and other chemicals, provide a preferable option for people who aren’t able to give up nicotine.
Public heath interventions to reduce smoking — such as tobacco control policies, higher taxes, smoke-free public places, media campaigns, advertising restrictions and cessation treatment programs — have led to the historic declines in smoking, the researchers wrote, but that the pace is too slow in averting preventable deaths.
“The tobacco control community has been divided regarding the role of e-cigarettes in tobacco control,” the authors wrote in their conclusion. “Our projections show that a strategy of replacing cigarette smoking with vaping would yield substantial life year gains, even under pessimistic assumptions regarding cessation, initiation and relative harm.”