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Doctors Divided on Safety, Use of Electronic Cigarettes

When patients ask about safety and using e-cigarettes to stop smoking, doctors' advice differs

smoking an e-cigarette

FRIDAY, Aug. 26, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Doctors disagree on the best way to answer patients' questions about electronic cigarettes, a new study finds.

They also want more investigation of the devices -- specifically, about the safety of e-cigarettes compared to traditional cigarettes, according to the Stanford University researchers. While traditional cigarettes deliver nicotine when the smoker inhales burning tobacco, e-cigarettes heat liquid nicotine until it vaporizes.

Researchers analyzed more than 500 online discussions between doctors and patients about e-cigarettes.

About 34 percent of patient questions were about the side effects and dangers of e-cigarettes; 27 percent were about general safety; and 19 percent about using e-cigarettes to stop smoking.

Side effects and safety were also the most common topics that doctors raised. But doctors were more likely to raise concerns about nicotine addiction.

About half of doctors' answers to patients' questions were negative, focusing on e-cigarette risks while advising patients not to use them. About 20 percent of answers were positive, such as using e-cigarettes as a tool to stop smoking traditional cigarettes.

Asked specifically about quitting smoking, 54 percent of doctors mentioned e-cigarettes as a possible aid, according to the study published online Aug. 26 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"The existing research, however, does not indicate that e-cigarettes help people quit combustible cigarettes. This is an area in need of greater study," senior study author Judith Prochaska said in a university news release. Prochaska is an associate professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, in California.

"The big question for me, working in tobacco control, is what's the best way for physicians to counsel their patients about electronic cigarettes," said co-lead study author Cati Brown-Johnson.

She suggested doctors consider talking about e-cigarettes in a "non-judgmental way, even when conveying the risks."

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more about electronic cigarettes.

SOURCE: Stanford University, news release, Aug. 26, 2016
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