Plenty remains unknown about both the effectiveness and the consequences of electronic-cigarette use.

And a newly published study out of Rutgers University finds that even your local physician may not be fully informed on electronic nicotine delivery products, even though most doctors are asked by their patients about the topic.

According to study authors, more than 60% of the 2,058 U.S. doctors surveyed had the "misconception" that all tobacco products are equally harmful. And the study notes that while the Food and Drug Administration has not approved e-cigarettes as a way for individuals to quit smoking, there is growing evidence that use of electronic devices is potentially effective for smoking cessation.

If an adult cigarette smoker were to switch completely to electronic devices, that individual would be reducing their own harm significantly, according to Michael Steinberg, author and medical director of the Rutgers Center for Tobacco Studies.

"Being less harmful than the most dangerous legal product in our society doesn't say much, but it is true that these products are less harmful," Steinberg said of e-cigarettes.

In the study, which was published on April 15 in JAMA Network Open, nearly 70% of physicians reported that patients have asked them about e-cigarettes; one-third said they were asked in the past 30 days.

"It's important to understand physicians' perspectives on e-cigarettes as a means for harm reduction," Steinberg said.

The study presented doctors with two hypothetical patients — an older man who smokes heavily and already failed at attempting to quit, and a younger woman who's a light smoker and had not yet tried to quit. Physicians were significantly more likely to recommend e-cigarettes for the man, and recommend FDA-approved medications, like nicotine gum or lozenges, for the light smoker.

Steinberg, who also serves as division chief in the Department of Medicine at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, said his recommendation for an adult smoker would be the usage of FDA-approved approaches, combined with behavioral counseling and a specialty program or telephone quitline.

"If they're either unwilling or unable to use those FDA-approved treatments, there is growing evidence that these electronic devices could help them quit smoking," he said. "I would say, for someone who's a current adult cigarette smoker, quitting smoking is the single most important thing they can do to improve their health."

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com

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