By: Daniel Haight, MD
Monday, January 28 2013
For those struggling to quit smoking, have you seen recent advertisements about electronic cigarettes, or “e-cigarettes,” and wondered if this was something that could help you?
Instead of lighting up, a battery powers the production of water vapor (which looks like smoke), while the user inhales nicotine. There is even a red light at the end to simulate burning.
They are basically a nicotine delivery device. We are most familiar with other devices such as nicotine patches, gum, nasal spray and inhalers.
But, most of those are used as stepping stones to quit smoking. This device, however, seems more like another addiction all together – with a recurring cost if an individual chooses to switch.
Some e-cigarette manufacturers do not advertise their products as a short term purchase to eventually give up. It seems that with the availability of flavors such as vanilla, fruit, menthol and coffee, the manufacturers are leaving open the possibility of long term use.
Of course, any amount of nicotine makes it hard to stop, but there are choices in the level of nicotine – varying from high, medium, low and even none. So, these products can be a tool to help someone quit smoking and hopefully save money in the long run.
Regarding the health effects, The Medical Letter recently reported the most common side effects were mouth and throat irritation, dry cough and even lipoid pneumonia – likely due to the glycerin in the vapor.
The FDA noted that contaminants such as cancer-causing hydrocarbons and nitrosamines were present in some of products tested along with diethylene glycol (which is also hazardous).
And just like smoking, the cost adds up because the “e-juice” in the cartridge needs to be replaced. This is after an initial cost of about $50 for the battery, charger case, etc. One cartridge is similar in price to one to two packs of cigarettes.
In a recently published Nicotine & Tobacco Research Journal, Dr. Ii-Lun Chen shared an article that summarized FDA reports of adverse events in users of e-cigarettes. The list contained serious incidents that were thought (not proven) to be associated with e-cigarettes.
In conclusion, it is safe to say that more information is needed regarding the safety and best use of this product.
What are your thoughts? Are they a quitting device or another vice? Or, just another choice for consumers if they want it?