Tobacco-related illnesses may lead some smokers to switch to electronic cigarettes, new research indicates.
Smokers with breathing problems who can’t quit altogether may perceive e-cigarettes as somewhat safer than tobacco cigarettes, the researchers said.
“Smokers with asthma, COPD or cardiovascular disease probably use e-cigarettes for the same reasons as other adults: to quit cigarettes, reduce cigarette consumption, or reduce the harms from smoking,” said lead investigator Dr. Gina Kruse.
The finding stems from responses to the 2014 and 2015 U.S. National Health Interview Surveys. The back-to-back surveys involved roughly 70,000 respondents.
“This large sample provides the first national estimates of the prevalence of e-cigarette use among U.S. adults with medical comorbidities [additional health conditions or illnesses],” said Kruse, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston.
“Vaping” has increased across the United States, with almost 13 percent of American adults saying they had used an e-cigarette in 2014. Many questions about who uses them and why remain unanswered.
“Very few never smokers with medical comorbidities have ever used e-cigarettes, except in the youngest age groups,” said Kruse.
But among those who already smoked, e-cigarette use rose from just under 48 percent in 2014 to nearly 54 percent in 2015, she and her colleagues found.
Smokers suffering from asthma, COPD or heart disease indicated they used the battery-powered devices more than those without such illnesses.
On the other hand, ex-smokers with cancer were relatively less likely to use e-cigarettes, the study found.
The findings were published recently in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Although the safety of e-cigarettes is still up for debate, someone with a smoking-related illness may feel an urgent need to quit or reduce traditional cigarette use and may be willing to try new products, Kruse said in a journal news release.
Among adults with cancer, however, “the low prevalence of e-cigarette use may be because even a reduced harm product is seen as too late to help them,” she said.
The bottom line: Doctors should routinely ask patients about e-cigarette use and assess the devices’ potential risks and benefits in terms of reducing or quitting regular cigarette use, Kruse said.
There’s more on electronic cigarettes at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.