Aims: We reviewed available research on the use, content and safety of electronic cigarettes (EC), and on their effects on users, to assess their potential for harm or benefit and to extract evidence that can guide future policy.
Methods: Studies were identified by systematic database searches and screening references to February 2014.
Results: EC aerosol can contain some of the toxicants present in tobacco smoke, but at levels which are much lower. Long-term health effects of EC use are unknown but compared with cigarettes, EC are likely to be much less, if at all, harmful to users or bystanders. EC are increasingly popular among smokers, but to date there is no evidence of regular use by never-smokers or by non-smoking children. EC enable some users to reduce or quit smoking.
Conclusions: Allowing EC to compete with cigarettes in the market-place might decrease smoking-related morbidity and mortality. Regulating EC as strictly as cigarettes, or even more strictly as some regulators propose, is not warranted on current evidence. Health professionals may consider advising smokers unable or unwilling to quit through other routes to switch to EC as a safer alternative to smoking and a possible pathway to complete cessation of nicotine use.
Keywords: Electronic cigarettes; harm reduction; prevalence; product safety; regulation; smoking cessation.
© 2014 Society for the Study of Addiction.