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Don't trust the claims on e-cigarette websites

Study finds sites claim that e-cigs help smokers quit, but the evidence isn't there

Published: April 14, 2014 03:00 PM

We're several years into the electronic-cigarette era, and the Food and Drug Administration still has not said how it will regulate the devices. In the meantime, the number of people using them has exploded, as has the number of online retailers selling e-cigs and accessories, such as liquid-nicotine solution. Now a recent review of 59 such sites has found that some of them are using questionable claims to market their wares, including that e-cigarettes provide a health benefit and help people quit tobacco.

In the study, researchers at the University of California at San Francisco examined each site between February and December 2012 for the presence or absence of 13 types of marketing claims, including those that stated or implied a health benefit ("tar free and toxin free," for example) or that the product would help users quit tobacco cigarettes, a claim that technically isn't allowed because e-cigarettes aren't approved smoking-cessation devices. Other claims the researchers looked at included ability to smoke anywhere, lack of exposing others to secondhand smoke, environmental friendliness, and a better social life. 

Read about the growing number of calls to poison-control centers related to e-cigarettes.

Researchers found that 95 percent of the websites made health-related claims, while 64 percent touted smoking-cessation benefits. Twenty-two percent of the sites featured doctors; the same percentage touted use by celebrities such as actress Katherine Heigl and cast members of the reality-TV show "Jersey Shore." Three-quarters of the sites claimed that the product did not produce secondhand smoke.

Researchers concluded that "health claims and smoking-cessation messages that are unsupported by current scientific evidence are frequently used to sell e-cigarettes." 

Bottom line. As we've reported, there's insufficient—and increasingly negative—evidence that using e-cigarettes really helps people to quit tobacco. And their safety remains unknown. The unchecked ability of e-cigarette retailers to make broad and enticing claims that aren't necessarily supported by evidence is but one more reason Consumer Reports thinks the FDA needs to get moving on regulations.

"It reminds me of the early days of aggressive tobacco marketing," says Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., Consumer Reports' chief medical adviser since 1967. "Nicotine has been, is, and will always be a highly addictive toxic substance. The sooner the FDA gets into the act, the better it will be for countless numbers who, daily, fall prey to the deceptive and false advertising practices of E-cigarette manufacturers".  

Have you used e-cigarettes? Share your experience with us.

—Jamie Kopf


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