Can electronic cigarettes help me quit smoking?
Originally Published: April 23, 2010
Can you tell me about electronic cigarettes and their effects on health? Pros and cons, and a comparison to actual cigarettes? How do they compare to the patch and gum for someone who wants to quit smoking?
Mint, almond, cherry, strawberry, chocolate… an alluring list of ice cream flavors? A handful of jellybeans? Well, yes. And now, you can add "cigarettes" to the list of things that come in these flavors. Specifically, "e-cigarettes" or "e-cigs." At this point, even though lots of users attest to e-cigarettes' power in weaning them off of traditional cigarettes and helping to nix their nicotine addiction, there is currently no proof that e-cigarettes can help you quit smoking. In fact, they may be just as harmful, if not more harmful, than their non-battery powered counterparts.
E-cigarettes have become increasingly popular, though much about the risks associated with them is unknown. Designed in size, shape, and color to resemble the real thing, e-cigs are actually small, battery-powered vaporizers. The act of inhaling triggers a sensor that causes a tiny heating element to heat up the nicotine cartridge inside, turning the nicotine into an odorless vapor. E-cigs create no second-hand smoke, which has added to their popularity. In addition to the different flavors, cartridges come in varying levels of nicotine and some come without nicotine. They are sold primarily online, in mall kiosks, and sometimes in tobacco specialty stores. A starter pack (which comes with one battery-powered cigarette and several cartridges) will set you back about $100.
Are they a "quit smoking" aid? In a word: No. If e-cig manufacturers wanted to make this claim, they would have to adhere to specific FDA standards. They have yet to apply for such status, probably because studies conducted thus far indicate that not only would e-cigs likely fail meet FDA standards, these battery-powered nicotine delivery sticks may be just as bad for your health as old fashioned smokes. Aside from being addictive, nicotine itself is toxic to humans. The nicotine vapor in e-cigarettes may send a more concentrated dose of nicotine into e-cig "smokers'" bodies. Choosing a lower-dose e-cig isn't necessarily a reliable solution for decreasing nicotine intake. FDA tests found that similarly labeled e-cig cartridges released widely varying levels of nicotine per puff and that even cartridges labeled as nicotine-free still contained nicotine. Another concern is that e-cigs contain a chemical called propylene glycol, which is also used in anti-freeze. The short-term and long-term consequences of inhaling this chemical have yet to be determined. The FDA has stopped many shipments of e-cigs at the border because of unknown health consequences. The European Union has also not approved e-cigarettes.
Quitting smoking has immense health benefits, so if you are considering it, that's great. Columbia students can access tobacco cessation support services and receive supplies to quit smoking. Outside of Columbia, visit Smokefree.gov for resources on quitting. Gums and patches are a safer bet (and probably more effective) than the e-cig. For more tips on quitting, check out the articles below.
Here's to happy lungs,