Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices made of plastic or metal that heat a liquid nicotine solution, creating vapour that users inhale.
The $1.5 billion e-cigarette industry says the nicotine vaporizers are a less harmful alternative to smoking tobacco. The World Health Organisation and some regulatory bodies, on the other hand, showed grave concern for people using e-cigarettes and seek more restrictive rules.
With these two opposing school of thoughts, it may be frustrating and worrying for smokers deciding whether to use e-cigarettes as a cessation to tool to help them quit smoking.
Why many turn to e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation aid
1. Mimics experience of tobacco cigarettes
It is estimated that up to 80% of current adult smokers have tried quitting at least once. Quitting is difficult because it is both an addiction and a habit.
When you smoke, you get used to the physical motions of bring the cigarette to your mouth. It’s difficult for users to quit because the muscles and brain are trained to reach for a cigarette.
E-cigarettes allow you to make that familiar hand-to-mouth action just as you would with a tobacco cigarette.
Therefore, it is argued that it is easier for smokers to quit using this tool as compared to smoking cessation aids like nicotine gum or patches.
2. No tobacco
In addition, e-cigarette proponents argue that e-cigarettes offer the advantage of a nicotine delivery service without risking the health consequences of smoking a real tobacco cigarette – there’s no smoke, no carbon monoxide, no odour and no tar.
Tar is the collection of solid particles that smokers inhale when they light a cigarette. It is a mixture of lots of chemicals, many of which can cause cancer.
One study from an international group of scientists found that the level of toxins in e-cigarettes were 9-450 times lower than in cigarette smoke.
However, they still advised for further study to be done on e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation aid.
Why e-cigarettes may be bad for you
1. Unclear long-term effects of inhaling vapour
The biggest concern most potential users have over e-cigarettes is that e-cigarettes are not regulated by regulatory agencies like the US Food and Drug Administration.
A lack of regulation means that companies are not required to report their product and ingredients listings. This means there can be vast disparities between the amount of nicotine advertised on the packaging and the amount of liquid actually contained.
The nicotine dosage may also vary notably between brands. In addition, there’s no way of knowing what other potential harmful chemicals they contain.
The long-term risk of delivering vapour nicotine to the lungs are also unknown. The bottom line is that the lack of regulation means that the safety of e-cigarettes are unclear.
2. Smokers do not quit vaping nicotine
Smokers are supposed to use e-cigarettes to quit smoking by gradually reducing their nicotine dependency. You start with a higher nicotine level (1.8% is usually a good starting point for moderate smokers), and move down to 1.2%, 0.6% and finally when you are ready, at 0% and smoke only the vapour without the nicotine.
However, studies have found that many users do not actually wean themselves off nicotine and do not move down to a lower nicotine dose. In fact, there is a high level of dual use of e-cigarettes and conventional tobacco cigarettes among adults.
Prof Simon Chapman of the University of Sydney, argues that tobacco companies want smokers to use e-cigarettes, as well as cigarettes, not instead of them and want to re-socialize public smoking back into fashion.
At the end of the day, nicotine is still addictive, as the Mayo Clinic explains. That means using e-cigarettes even a few times could lead to lifelong cravings for the drug.
On top of that, vaping reinforces the “hand-to-mouth behaviour” which may make it harder for smokers to kick the habit.
Success of e-cigarette as smoking cessation aid is inconclusive
Some research such as a large randomised controlled trial conducted by New Zealand researchers in 2013 found that the quit rate for those using e-cigarettes is low and similar to those using a nicotine patch.
But other studies point to the success of e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool over other cessation aids. The truth is that evidence whether e-cigarettes are helping or hurting smokers are pointing in both directions.
E-cigarettes are so new that research hasn’t had a chance to catch up with their meteoric rise in popularity. The body of research is small. Because the devices are so new, many of the studies conducted were funded by e-cigarette manufacturers. While it doesn’t mean the study’s findings are worthless, the results may not be entirely objective either.
E-cigarettes may well possibly be the best smoking cessation aid that has come onto the market. Reading testimonies of consumers quitting tobacco cigarettes after using e-cigarettes is certainly heartening.
On the other hand, the body of research on e-cigarettes is currently small and new which means that consumers would not know the full extent of the potential risks.
The fact that the effects have not been fully studied means that you will have to try it at your own risk. – September 12, 2014.
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