ATLANTA—Georgia State University has received $1.4 million from the National Institutes of Health to lead a four-year research initiative that will evaluate the effects of early attempts to regulate electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes).
Led by economist Michael Pesko of Georgia State’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies in partnership with Cornell University, Temple University, the University of Kentucky, the University of Pennsylvania, and the School of Public Health at Georgia State, researchers will study the effects of e-cigarette-related regulations on pricing, access, public perception of the safety of e-cigarettes, and the use and sale of e-cigarettes, traditional cigarettes, cigars and smokeless tobacco. They will also investigate the impact of e-cigarette regulations on sales of nicotine replacement therapies, such as gum and patches, for those who are seeking to quit smoking.
“There is a gap in understanding how to regulate or deregulate e-cigarettes in the most optimal way from the perspective of public health,” Pesko said, “and a lack of understanding of what spillover effects vaping regulations might have on other health behaviors.”
In 2016, e-cigarettes were used by 11.7 percent of high school students and 3.2 percent of adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“If e-cigarettes are heavily taxed or regulated, people might be discouraged from using them as smoking cessation devices, which would likely have a negative impact on public health,” Pesko said. “On the other hand, e-cigarettes are not harmless and so regulating them could have health benefits if the regulations don’t tip people into more dangerous traditional cigarette use.”
Policymakers have approached the emergence of e-cigarettes in U.S. markets skeptically and have passed numerous regulations including taxes, bans on vaping in public places and minimum legal sales age laws. The state-by-state nature of e-cigarette regulations will provide an opportunity to use secondary data and quasi-experimental study designs to evaluate what impact the regulations have.
“Smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States,” Pesko said. “One in every five people die due to cigarette use, so anything we can do to reduce disease and death caused by smoking is time and money well spent.
“E-cigarettes are an intriguing new dimension to traditional tobacco control efforts because it is unclear how they will affect the pattern of disease and death from tobacco. Will e-cigarettes help, or will they hurt, and what regulations, if any, would facilitate the best outcome from the perspective of public health?”
By Rashida Powell