Electronic cigarettes might help some people quit smoking, but the American Heart Association recommends them only as a last resort and only with several notes of caution.

AHA President Elliott Antman, M.D., underscored the careful approach Tuesday, a day after the organization’s first policy statement on e-cigarettes drew widespread media attention.

“Healthcare professionals, when discussing plans for quitting tobacco with patients, should first emphasize using approved and tested cessation aids,” Antman said. “If those don’t work, a conversation should be started with the patient emphasizing the lack of long-term safety of e-cigarettes and the inadequate regulation – which means patients don’t know always know for sure what’s in the product they purchase.”

Only after that conversation, with a full understanding of the risks, should the patient use e-cigarettes to try to quit, Antman said. “But the patient should set a quit date, because the goal is to be free of tobacco products in all forms,” he said. “We want to avoid dual use where both e-cigarettes and regular combustible tobacco cigarettes are both used.”

Antman also reiterated the major points of the statement Tuesday: E-cigarettes should be regulated and treated the same way as other tobacco products, they threaten to get more people addicted to nicotine, they should not be marketed to children, and they may pose health threats that we don’t yet fully understand.

“The American Heart Association advocates that e-cigarettes should be regulated the way conventional tobacco products are regulated. We must protect the youth of our country from becoming the next generation of Americans addicted to deadly tobacco products,” he said.

The American Heart Association has actively advocated against tobacco use for years. On Monday, the organization released its first position statement on the battery-powered e-cigarette products that have quickly grown in popularity. The statement was written by a group of scientists, physicians and researchers, after they studied the latest available information on e-cigarettes.

The group found that the pace of regulation and scientific research has not kept pace with the growth in e-cigarette use. Since their 2003 creation in China, e-cigarette sales have boomed with more than 465 brands and 7,760 flavors now available.

Much more research is needed on the product’s health impact, according to the policy statement. But that research has been hampered by the constantly changing design of e-cigarettes and the use of different additives.

The policy statement called for strong new regulations to prevent access, sales and marketing of e-cigarettes to youth.

Most e-cigarettes use liquid nicotine and in many cases contain flavors that seem directed at young people, including bubble gum, caramel, chocolate, fruit and mint. And many brands use colorful, candy-like packaging.

E-cigarettes also are advertised heavily — even though broadcast ads for combustible cigarettes have been banned since 1971 – reaching millions of young people.

A survey of students in grades 6 through 12 found that by 2012, 1.78 million students in the U.S. had tried e-cigarettes and 76. 3 percent of e-cigarette users said they also smoked conventional cigarettes.

Cigarettes are the leading preventable cause of death, killing nearly half a million Americans a year and leaving 16 million others suffering from smoking-related illness. Over the past 50 years, 20 million Americans have died from tobacco use.

Over the past 50 years, 20 million Americans have lost their lives to tobacco. Each of those lives lost was a preventable death. Thus, the AHA and other public health organizations have advocated strongly against tobacco products and want to make sure that the surge in popularity of e-cigarettes does not cause us to lose ground in our efforts to make our nation 100 percent tobacco-free, Antman said.