The nation’s largest tobacco consumption survey reveals that a considerable number of smokers choose to access multiple sources of nicotine, the most popular combination of products being cigarettes and e-cigarettes.
Health experts currently hope that the new results will add more data to the debate over the role of e-cigs in reducing smoking rates among Americans. The preliminary conclusions of the survey were publicly released Feb. 26.
According to the findings, 40 percent of tobacco users employ several nicotine sources, such as hookah, cigars, and cigarillos. In nearly half of the combinations, e-cigarettes were mentioned. Health researchers believe that this may be a sign that many smokers use e-cigs to cut down on their smoking habits or even to quit smoking.
The survey, called Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) Study, involved more than 46,000 people aged 12 or older and was co-funded by the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse and the US FDA’s Center on Tobacco Products.
The PATH study started in October 2011, after the Congress gave the FDA the green light to regulate tobacco products two years before. The survey was designed to gather more data on tobacco use for legal and scientific purposes, as well as to assess the health of the U.S. tobacco users.
But not all PATH participants are tobacco users. Instead, many of them are regular people affected by secondhand smoke. According to NIH, the investigators met with each study participant every year, for at least three years. During the meetings, study participants were invited to take part in other tobacco-related studies.
Over the past few years, researchers became more interested in finding whether smokers were attracted to e-cigarettes as quit-smoking devices, as healthier alternatives to other tobacco products, or as a way to bypass the smoking in public spaces ban.
The results disclosed Thursday, however, did not provide additional clues to why so many smokers use more types of tobacco products, rather than settling for only one.
Andrew Hyland, chief scientific investigator involved in the study and researcher at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, NY, speculates that smokers either may try to transition away from cigarettes, or may become more addicted.
“Is it a step towards people quitting, or are the hooks of nicotine just getting deeper?,”
Mitch Zeller, chief of the FDA’s tobacco department, said that his team was struck by how many users were engaged in “polyuse,” or multiple product use. Mr. Zeller also said that such studies are revelatory in a marketplace where recent evolution makes everybody’s head spin.
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