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BackgroundElectronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are widely promoted as harm-reduction products for smokers, and smokers commonly perceive them as less harmful than combustible cigarettes. One of the key questions regarding public health consequences of e-cigarettes is the magnitude of harm reduction achievable by smokers who switch from combustible cigarettes to e-cigarettes. We conducted a systematic literature review of epidemiological studies that estimated odds of respiratory and cardiovascular outcomes among former smokers who use e-cigarettes compared to current smokers.MethodsThis systematic review was conducted in accordance with the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis (PRISMA) statement. We searched the PubMed and Embase databases in September 2020 to identify epidemiological studies that compared odds of cardiovascular and respiratory outcomes among former smokers who transitioned to e-cigarettes relative to odds among current smokers not using e-cigarettes (current exclusive smokers). We included studies that provided direct estimates of relevant odds ratios (ORs). We also included studies where indirect estimates of relevant ORs could be calculated based on published results. Two reviewers independently extracted data and conducted quality appraisals.ResultsSix population-based studies with sample sizes ranging from 19,475 to 161,529 respondents met review inclusion criteria, five of which were cross-sectional and one longitudinal. Three studies reported respiratory outcomes and three reported cardiovascular outcomes. ORs of respiratory outcomes (including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, asthma, and wheezing) in former smokers who transitioned to e-cigarettes versus current exclusive smokers were below 1.0, ranging from 0.58 (95%CI 0.36-0.94) to 0.66 (95%CI 0.50-0.87; all p ConclusionThough our review included a small number of studies, it provided consistent results. Former smokers who transitioned to e-cigarettes showed ~ 40% lower odds of respiratory outcomes compared to current exclusive smokers. Switching from smoking to e-cigarette does not appear to significantly lower odds of cardiovascular outcomes. Since the utility of cross-sectional studies for causal inference remains limited, both randomized controlled trials and prospective cohort studies are needed to better evaluate contributions of e-cigarettes as harm reduction tools for smokers.

Original publication





Harm reduction journal

Publication Date





Department of Health Behavior, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, Elm and Carlton Streets, Buffalo, NY, 14263, USA.


Humans, Cardiovascular Diseases, Risk Factors, Prospective Studies, Cross-Sectional Studies, Vaping, Smokers, Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems, Heart Disease Risk Factors