Cigarettes, or at least tobacco, have been smoked for nearly 2,000 years and today they are now available in electronic form, but is this better? There are varying opinions on the subject and a limited amount of research available as the “e-cigs” are relatively new. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is still in the process of collecting data on these new devices. They have recently begun regulation of the product.
The FDA states that more information is needed on e-cigs and their long-term effects on users. There is also concern for addiction to the product, particularly in youth and people who may not have otherwise used tobacco products. Research is also needed to see if the electronic cigarettes have any benefits. There have been voluntary reports to the FDA of adverse effects related to electronic cigarette use. These include pneumonia, congestive heart failure, disorientation, hypotension and seizures. These symptoms can not be directly linked to the use of e-cigs, but were reported after use of the product.
A reported downfall of electronic cigarettes is that the level of nicotine and other chemicals vary between inhalations of the product. An FDA study found that nicotine levels varied between 26.8 and 43.2 micrograms per puff. The study also found nicotine levels in products that had stated being nicotine free. Along with nicotine there are other chemical products, such as diethylene glycol, that are harmful to users.
Dr. Tom Frieden, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has vocalized his opinion on e-cigs and vapors. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times he expressed concern that these products are getting new generations addicted to smoking. He also stated that 1.78 million high school students have used the product, and to him that is like watching kids be directly harmed. Frieden did go on to state that electronic cigarettes are “almost certainly less toxic” than traditional cigarettes.
There are researchers who have found that existing smokers may benefit from e-cigs. A study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine reported a reduction in cigarette smoking by 31 percent of e-cig users. For those in the study who were still smoking, 66.8 percent reported a decrease in the amount. The study concluded that electronic cigarettes hold promise for smoking cessation but that more extensive research is needed to better understand the product.
There are alternatives to e-cigs for smoking cessation. These include nicotine administration through patches and gum, increased physical activity to combat cravings and reaching out for support. There are many hotlines, some available 24 hours a day, that are free to call for help. There is also online support and useful techniques for relaxation. Many of the resources available state that distraction, or simply reminding ones self about the benefits of quitting can curb the craving.
Globally 55 percent of men smoke, and 22 percent of women. These numbers are predicted to rise as the number of adolescent smokers grows. If current patterns continue, an estimated 10 million people will die from tobacco use every year through out the world by 2020. Many of these deaths are predicted to be in underdeveloped countries. The development of electronic cigarettes and other alternatives to smoking have potential to help combat these numbers from becoming a reality, however, more research and time are needed to confirm that they will do more good than harm. Whether electronic cigarettes are better or not, non-smokers are encouraged by many health organizations not to take up the habit, and current smokers are encouraged to use established smoking cessation programs.
By Latasha Alvaro
American Journal of Preventive Medicine
World Health Organization