While the some scientists from the World Health Organization have defended e-cigarettes, saying they could be "part of the solution" to smokers eventually kicking the habit all together, new research might counter this argument.
The research published in the journal Cancer, the peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, suggests that the use of e-cigarettes increased dependence on nicotine.
The study found that cancer patients who used e-cigarettes, in addition to regular tobacco cigarettes, were either equally or less likely to quit smoking compared to those who didn't use the electronic devices.
The study that reviewed more than 1,000 cancer patients was conducted by researchers at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. From 2012 to 2013, the researchers observed a three-fold increase in the use of e-cigarettes. At the time that patients were enrolled into the tobacco treatment program, those who used e-cigarettes were more dependent than just traditional cigarette smokers, had tried to quit more times before and were more likely to have lung, head and neck cancers. At a follow-up after the treatment program, e-cigarette smokers were equally as likely than non-users to have taken up smoking again.
"Consistent with recent observations of increased e-cigarette use in the general population, our findings illustrate that e-cigarette use among tobacco-dependent cancer patients has increased within the past two years," Dr. Jamie Ostroff said in a statement.
With some limitations to her own study, Ostroff encouraged more research on the topic.
"Controlled research is needed to evaluate the potential harms and benefits of e-cigarettes as a potential cessation approach for cancer patients," she said. "In the meantime, oncologists should advise all smokers to quit smoking traditional combustible cigarettes, encourage use of [Food and Drug Administration]-approved cessation medications, refer patients for smoking cessation counseling, and provide education about the potential risks and lack of known benefits of long-term e-cigarette use ."
While some WHO scientists consider e-cigarettes a possible tool to help smokers quite, the U.N. agency as a whole recommended tougher restrictions on the devices last month, because they could be a gateway for other addictive substances in children and adolescents.
Another study also suggested that e-cigarettes could have "grave potential consequences" as a gateway drug.
In a report, WHO recommended governments forbid or keep to a minimum any advertising, promotion or sponsorship in a market that has mushroomed to $3 billion last year and now includes 466 different brands.
Regulation "is a necessary precondition for establishing a scientific basis on which to judge the effects of their use, and for ensuring that adequate research is conducted and the public health is protected and people made aware of the potential risks and benefits," the report said.
"E-cigarettes are a story of both risks and promises. In a sense they are a double-edged sword," Dr. Douglas Bettcher, director of WHO's Department for Prevention of Non-communicable Diseases, said last month. "The tobacco industry is taking greater share — as public health partners pretending to be part of the solution to the health disaster they have created."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.