Do E-cigarettes Help You Quit Smoking?

e-cig - 4HYANNIS – If you think switching to an electronic cigarette is a safe way to give up smoking, you may want to hear what experts say about it.

“Some patients use them to quit smoking, but a lot of times you are swapping addictions,” said cardiologist Claude-Laurent Sader, MD, of theHeart and Vascular Institute of Cape Cod Healthcare. “I don’t think that they are that efficient in smoking cessation.”

Smoking cessation methods like a nicotine patch or nicotine gum are a better choice that inhaling anything into your lungs, he added.

The verdict is still out on whether vaping is less harmful than lighting up a real cigarette, and doctors are divided over the health implications of e-cigarettes.

While some may think vaping is better than cigarettes because cigarettes contain over 600 ingredients, according to the American Lung Association. When burned, they release more than 7,000 chemicals into the body. At least 69 of those chemicals are known to cause cancer. There are only about five ingredients in e-cigarettes.

Other health professionals say that since the e-cigarettes contain nicotine, they can be a pathway drug to smoking. Research is showing this to be true – especially with adolescents.

“We’re seeing a lot of young people doing this,” said John Mendelsohn, MD, an emergency room physician and toxicology expert at Falmouth Hospital. “What’s happening is when young people use e-cigarettes they are becoming addicted to nicotine. So now you have a group of people who are more likely to move on to regular cigarettes.”

His concern mirrors that of public health officials that the rise in the use of electronic cigarettes can act as a gateway to the use of traditional tobacco products like cigarettes. A California study of 40,000 middle school and high school students across the country indicated that vaping nicotine does in fact lead a majority of teenagers to pick up the real product.

In Dr. Mendelsohn’s opinion, e-cigarettes are not safe at all.

“You have to remember that nicotine was originally used in agriculture as a pesticide,” he said. “The other issue that has come up is the vehicle that is being used. You get the nicotine liquid, but it’s not all nicotine. The vehicle is polyetholene glycol and a couple of other things that metabolize as formaldehyde. There is a lot of concern about the effects of inhaling formaldehyde repeatedly.”

The more you use these products, the worse they are for you, Dr. Mendelsohn explained. New smokers tend to inhale less deeply, but the longer people smoke, the deeper they inhale.

“When they inhale more deeply the formaldehyde can get into the deeper part of the lungs and cause potentially more toxic effects,” he said. “Formaldehyde is present in cigarettes as well, but it’s felt that the exposure of formaldehyde in the e-cigarette compared to a regular cigarette has probably a five times greater risk of toxicity.”

A look at the dangers of inhaling formaldehyde published in The New England Journal of Medicine earlier this year included two studies that showed that the risk of developing cancer from long-term vaping is five times as high as that of smoking a pack of regular cigarettes a day. The second study suggested the risk was 15 times higher.

The bottom line is that the Food and Drug Administration hasn’t issued any guidelines on e-cigarettes, or “vaping,” as it is called, and there are so many mixed messages on the topic of the safety of these products – even in the medical field – that it’s hard for the general public to keep up.

As this year’s American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout takes place this Thursday, researchers are looking into just how much and why people are turning to e-cigarettes.

A recent analysis on adult tobacco use led by Rutgers School of Public Health indicated that former smokers are four times more likely to use e-cigarettes daily than current smokers of tobacco – and the figures just get more twisted from there.

For a study earlier this year by Reuters, researchers polled 5,679 adults in the U.S. and found that about 10 percent of those polled now vape. The number rose to 15 percent for poll participants under the age of 40.

The study showed that almost 70 percent of e-cigarette users started in the past year and about three quarters of them also still smoke cigarettes.

Another aspect of e-cigarettes that has a lot of healthcare providers like Dr. Mendelsohn concerned is that tobacco industries are on board. From a pure business standpoint, that indicates that they don’t see e-cigarettes as a threat to their base of smokers.

“Remember Big Tobacco?” questions Dr. Mendelsohn. “Now there is Big Vape. You have to keep in mind that a lot of the information is coming from the companies that sell these products.”

By LAURIE HIGGINS, OneCape Health News

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  1. This is one of the worst articles I have ever read about electronic cigarettes. It never seems to amaze me how health professionals and so called experts can twist the truth to suit their own agenda. Firstly, there is no debate on whether they are safer than tobacco or not. It is well established that electronic cigarettes are significantly safer than tobacco, at least 95% safer according to public health England, and this is considered a conservative estimate. With all due respect to Dr Mendelssohn, he lacks any credibility on this subject. Firstly he claims that the carrier in electronic cigarettes is polyethylene glycol, this is wrong, it is propylene glycol, a completely different compound, commonly use is asthma inhalers. He then talks about formaldehyde and cites the New England study as evidence. This piece of research has been widely discredited by the scientific community, to the extent that the researchers issued a statement saying their findings had been deliberately misinterpreted. Saying that the risk from formaldehyde is five times worse in electronic cigarettes is nothing short of an outright lie. No one is suggesting that electronic cigarette’s x are without risk, but they are significantly safer than tobacco. They are also a very affectivecessation aid, at least twice as affecting as gum or patches.Health professionals should be embracing this new technology rather than opposing it. Yes more research is needed to ensure safety, but electronic cigarettes could end the scourge of tobacco. Sadly it seems that some health professionals have an our way or no way attitude.

  2. John’s comment above is very accurate. There is no question, based on a multitude of scientific evidence, that electronic cigarettes are much safer than tobacco cigarettes, so vaping is truly a safer alternative to smoking. And it is absolutely false that “the exposure of formaldehyde in the e-cigarette compared to a regular cigarette has probably a five times greater risk of toxicity.” In fact, the major brands of e-cigarettes on the market do not have detectable levels of formaldehyde. Unfortunately, many anti-smoking groups have been lying to the public about the health risks associated with vaping. Not only is vaping much safer than smoking, but clinical studies have shown that switching from smoking to vaping can actually help reverse health damage that smokers have sustained. There are very rapid improvements in respiratory health, both subjectively in terms of symptoms and objectively in terms of lung function. Smokers who have quit smoking by switching to electronic cigarettes are literally saving their lives. We should be congratulating these vapers on having accomplished one of the most difficult tasks imaginable (getting off of tobacco cigarettes), not scaring them with false information that is likely to cause them to return to cigarette smoking!

    Michael Siegel, MD, MPH
    Professor, Boston University School of Public Health

    • Thank you Michael for all you do. An intelligent, rational and pragmatic voice like yours is essential if we are not going to lose this unprecedented public health opportunity. Educating and nagging smokers to quit can only achieve so much, what was really needed is an alternative to smoking that is safer and preferably more enjoyable. We have that now with electronic cigarettes, they may well represent the ” Kodak moment ” for tobacco. Unfortunately, those with vested interests or closed minds seem determined to stand in the way.

      • Kristin geisler says

        Looking for a way to safely quit smoking can’t use patches and don’t like vapors

        • Vaping worked for me after 25 years smoking, but you need to find a device and flavor that suits you. However it’s not for everyone, you could try nicotine mouth spray or gum. What ever you do try to quit smoking, you’ll feel an awful lot better for it and save a fortune as well. Good luck!

  3. The state of Massachusetts received $282M from the MSA in 2014.
    They have to help sell traditional tobacco to receive this revenue. Tax resistant electronic cigarettes com0petes with this revenue stream.

    It’s never been about health. It’s all about $money$

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