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E-cigarettes: Another Option to Help You Quit Smoking?

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If you have lung disease and you're a smoker, you undoubtedly know the importance of breaking the cigarette habit. You may even have tried to quit smoking before but to no avail. Could electronic cigarettes -- also known as e-cigarettes -- be the answer?

These battery-powered devices look like real cigarettes, have a light-emitting diode (LED) on the tip that lights up when you inhale and even produce fake smoke in the form of water vapor. They also deliver nicotine via cartridges, but spare you the tar, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and other toxins found in tobacco smoke. 

If e-cigarettes sound too good to be true, that's because they probably are. With a dearth of rigorous studies on their safety and effectiveness, experts are increasingly concerned that e-cigarettes may do little to help you stop smoking -- and may actually do more harm than good. 

Some manufacturers of e-cigarettes tout their products as an effective form of nicotine replacement therapy. And, in theory, they could work, since the principle is the same. The e-cigarette's cartridges are available in progressively lower concentrations of nicotine, so you can wean yourself off nicotine over time just like with traditional nicotine replacement products. 

So what's the problem? For one thing, some e-cigarettes may not deliver enough nicotine to the bloodstream to effectively suppress cravings. In one study, published in Tobacco Control, the investigator compared levels of nicotine in the blood of 16 smokers after they smoked two of their usual brand of cigarettes, puffed on two unlit cigarettes or "smoked" two brands of e-cigarettes, each containing a 16 mg (high) cartridge of nicotine.  

After smoking the e-cigarettes, participants had blood nicotine levels virtually the same as it was after they puffied on an unlit cigarette and significantly lower than the blood nicotine levels detected after smoking a conventional cigarette. In addition, the smokers' heart rate increased after smoking tobacco but not after using the e-cigarette or unlit cigarette, again suggesting a negligible delivery of nicotine to the bloodstream with the e-cigarette.  Another problem: Some cartridges may contain more or less nicotine than noted on the label. 

Our advice:  Some manufacturers and retailers of e-cigarettes claim these products are healthier than normal cigarettes and can help you quit smoking. But in the absence of scientific evidence to support those contentions, it's best to avoid e-cigarettes until more research has been done. For now, if you're trying to quit smoking, stick with proven, FDA-approved stop-smoking strategies.                     


Posted in Lung Disorders on October 13, 2011

Medical Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute for the advice of a physician. Click here for additional information: Health After 50 Disclaimer

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Health After 50 Alerts registered users may post comments and share experiences here at their own discretion. We regret that questions on individual health concerns to the editors cannot be answered in this space.

The views expressed here do not constitute medical advice, and do not represent the position of Scientific American Health After 50 or Remedy Health Media, LLC, which has no responsibility for any comments posted on this site.

For smokers who are serious about quitting the habit, any alternative solutions are willingly tried. E-cigs may contain less nicotine, and do little to wean the user off cigarettes, but we can agree that there are less harmful substances involved, and it is better for the environment.

Posted by: | March 1, 2012 11:02 PM

Many smokers I know of take comfort in the fact that their e-cigs contain no tobacco, and hence do less harm to their body than normal cigarettes. I guess more medical research needs to be done before we can come to a conclusion.

Posted by: | December 4, 2012 3:29 AM

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