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Expert Panel Unclear on Whether E-Cigarettes Help Smokers Quit

More and better data is needed, U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says

MONDAY, May 4, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- An influential U.S. panel of experts says there's just not enough data to decide whether or not e-cigarettes can help smokers quit.

For now, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends behavioral therapy and federally approved medications, such as nicotine replacement treatments, for most adults seeing to kick the smoking habit.

The exception: pregnant women. For them, the task force recommends behavioral therapy alone.

In any case, doctors "should ask all patients whether they smoke, and provide appropriate interventions to help smokers quit," task force member Dr. Francisco Garcia said in a statement provided by the task force. "We're fortunate that doctors and patients have a choice of many interventions that have been proven to be effective," he said.

The task force, an independent panel of volunteers, makes recommendations about the prevention of medical problems through strategies like screenings, counseling services and medications.

According to the USPSTF, an estimated 18 percent of U.S. adults are smokers, and smoking remains the country's most serious preventable cause of death, disability and illness. Smoking causes 480,000 premature deaths a year, the task force said, and is responsible for about 20 percent of deaths.

E-cigarette use is continuing to boom in popularity across the United States, and some proponents of the "vaping" device say it provides a safer alternative to cigarettes and a potential "bridge" to quitting.

However, the USPSTF said there simply isn't enough good research for the panel to make a decision about whether e-cigarettes are a good idea for adults who wish to stop smoking.

One expert agreed. "More studies are needed to determine the potential risks and benefits of these products before they are recommended to patients as smoking cessation aids," said Patricia Folan, director of the Center for Tobacco Control at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Great Neck, N.Y.

She also stressed the importance of helping pregnant women quit the habit.

"Smoking during pregnancy not only results in harm to the child in utero, but will also result in exposure to the hazards of secondhand smoke for the child if the mother is unable to quit or remain quit," Folan said.

The task force will accept public comment on its recommendations until June 1.

More information

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SOURCES: Patricia Folan, D.N.P., director, Center for Tobacco Control, North Shore-LIJ Health System, Great Neck, N.Y.; U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, press release, May 4, 2015
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