e-cigaretteA research summary presented at an American Heart Association conference is being used to misrepresent the organization’s e-cigarette policy.

The summary was presented at the AHA’s Scientific Sessions 2014 meeting for cardiologists and other heart specialist in Chicago last November.

It was published in the scientific journal Circulation and concluded that “…available literature suggests that the use of e-cigarettes may be an effective alternate smoking cessation method.”

Researchers — led by Muhammad A. Rahman, M.D., senior researcher at St. Vincent Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia — added that more study was needed.

That presentation has been mistakenly attributed to the AHA and used in advertisements and stories, which incorrectly say the AHA backs e-cigarette use. Any research presented at a scientific meeting does not equate to an official AHA position. The same is true of research printed in the organization’s publications.

“Statements, opinions, and results of studies published in Circulation are those of the authors and do not reflect the policy or position of the American Heart Association, and the American Heart Association provides no warranty as to their accuracy or reliability,” the Circulation website reads.

The AHA’s e-cigarette policy, created in August 2014, actually emphasizes caution. E -cigarettes are dangerous because they target young people, can keep people hooked on nicotine, and threaten to re-normalize’ tobacco use, said the policy statement. Analysis of the limited data suggested that e-cigarettes did appear to be less harmful than traditional cigarettes and – as a last resort – may help people quit smoking.

But those findings were accompanied with warnings that the observations were based on a limited pool of medical research and there were no long-term results. Despite those warnings and caveats, the initial study information has been used to try and sell e-cigarettes and declare them an effective stop-smoking method.

“Our products are the most effective alternative to cigarettes. And, so says the American Heart Association in its just releases [sic] study 12/10/2014,” read a website for VAPEsolutely!, an e-cigarette store in North Kingstown, Rhode Island.

AHA policy states there’s no strong scientific evidence that e-cigarettes are effective as a first-line smoking cessation method, instead smoking strategies approved by the Food and Drug Administration should be the first line of treatment. VAPEsolutely! owner William P. Pizzuti said he thought he read that the study found e-cigarettes were an effective method for quitting smoking and healthier than traditional tobacco cigarettes.

“We don’t call vaping or e-cigarettes healthy per se. We say they’re healthier than tobacco cigarettes,” Pizzuti said.

The AHA’s policy said e-cigarettes should only be used to stop smoking when conventional treatments have failed, the smoker can’t tolerate other methods, or the smoker prefers to use e-cigarettes to quit.

Switching from a traditional cigarette to an e-cigarette should not be a long-term solution, according to the AHA, because e-cigarettes are unregulated, may contain toxic chemicals and have not been FDA-approved as cessation devices.

Pizzuti, who received a cease-and-desist letter from the AHA, removed the language from his Facebook account and website. He apologized for misunderstanding, but said he personally does believe that e-cigarettes are helping his customers quit smoking tobacco cigarettes.

“When customers come back in to buy more e-liquid or e-juice, they tell us their positive stories about reducing the number of cigarettes or quitting altogether,” he said, adding that people tell him that they tried nicotine patches and gum, but that none of it worked.

It’s hard for a science organization like the AHA to see its name used in connection with smoking or tobacco use of any type since cigarettes are the leading preventable cause of death.

“Over the last 50 years, 20 million Americans died because of tobacco. We are fiercely committed to preventing the tobacco industry from addicting another generation of smokers,” said CEO Nancy Brown when the organization’s policy statement was released. “Recent studies raise concerns that e-cigarettes may be a gateway to traditional tobacco products for the nation’s youth, and could renormalize smoking in our society.”

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