Electronic cigarettes: Help or hazard?
Unfortunately, there are too many Americans addicted to cigarettes. There are a number of treatment options including nicotine patches, chewing gums, lozenges that dissolve on the tongue, nasal sprays and oral medications such as Chantix, which can decrease the craving for cigarettes. For the past few years, there’s a new nicotine substitute on the block - the electronic cigarette. For this article, I will discuss the pros and cons and the safety issues associated with the use of electronic cigarettes. Despite the appeal of so-called e-cigarettes, we don’t know enough about their safety or effectiveness to give them the green light.
Electronic cigarettes come in a variety of shapes. Some look like cigarettes, pipes or cigars, while others are disguised as pens or other more socially acceptable items. Whatever their shape, they all are built around a battery-operated heating element, a replaceable cartridge that contains nicotine and other chemicals and an atomizer that converts the chemicals into an inhalable vapor.
The most recent evidence is that electronic cigarettes may help smokers quit. Whether they are a safe way to quit is another question. However, there are three reasons to worry about electronic cigarettes.
First, the dose of nicotine delivered with each puff may vary substantially. An analysis recorded nicotine doses between 26.8 and 43.2 micrograms per puff. Also, some products which are labeled as nicotine free do contain nicotine.
Second, electronic cigarettes deliver an array of other chemicals, including diethylene glycol (a highly toxic substance), various nitrosamines (powerful carcinogens found in tobacco) and at least four other chemicals suspected of being harmful to humans. To be sure, the dose of these compounds is generally smaller than found in “real” cigarette smoke. But it isn’t zero.
Third, by simulating the cigarette experience, electronic cigarettes might reactivate the habit in ex-smokers. They could also be a gateway into tobacco abuse for young people who are not yet addicted.
We need scientific studies of e-cigarettes. Until then, it’s caveat emptor, buyer beware. And be aware that there are better and safer ways to quit. The most effective strategy involves using nicotine replacement or a medication along with some sort of counseling or support, either in person, by telephone or even by text message.
If you want to quit, solid information and advice are available at www.smokefree.gov, a website developed by the National Cancer Institute. Any of the approved methods are vastly preferable to smoking and to electronic cigarettes. There are many states that offer free nicotine replacement therapy. You can find this information through the North American Quitline Consortim (http://www.naquitline.org/) to help you find free smoking cessation resources. Even if your insurance company does not support a smoking cessation program, keep in mind that several weeks of nicotine replacement therapy is less expensive than several weeks of buying cigarettes.
Bottom Line: E-cigarettes may be a solution to a smoking cessation program.