13 Dec E-Cigarettes
There’s been a lot of debate over the use, safety, and regulation of e-cigarettes. Conflicting reports and opinions abound. One question that begs to be answered is whether or not e-cigarettes actually help smokers to quit. While doctors and scientists continue to weigh the pros and cons, there is a body of anecdotal evidence that shows e-cigarettes are highly useful in quitting. Several studies have shown that e-cigarettes help smokers to quit tobacco for good. Others seem to demonstrate the exact opposite. Do the risks outweigh the benefits, or is it too soon to tell?
According to a survey conducted by the American Cancer Society, 70% of smokers would like to quit, but only around 7% manage to succeed on their first try. Exactly half of those who succeed do it by going cold turkey. The rest manage to quit tobacco by implementing some other smoking cessation aid: nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), for example. NRT includes patches, gum, inhalers, and lozenges, and appears to double a potential quitter’s chance at success.
So where do e-cigarettes fit in? While some research suggests that e-cigarettes can be a valuable tool in quitting smoking, other seems to show the opposite. One concern is that vaping doesn’t actually help anyone quit, but instead may lead to behavior such as “dual usage,” where smokers who are attempting to cut down on their tobacco usage become addicted to both e-cigarettes and analog. Some seem to suggest that this is the case. However, a number of these studies failed to distinguish between individuals who were simply using e-cigarettes alongside tobacco, and those who were doing so in an attempt to quit. Even the CDC’s website fails to draw distinction between the two, associating e-cigarettes with dual usage.
Many experts are concerned with potentially dangerous chemicals lurking in e-liquid, which is currently unregulated by the FDA. Doctors fear that the liquid, made from propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, flavoring, and sometimes nicotine, may contain toxic compounds and by-products. Certain studies do suggest that there may be trace elements of respiratory irritants in some brands of e-liquids. When compared with the type and number of chemicals in tobacco, however, these ingredients were shown to be significantly fewer and safer.
Other findings suggest that vaping helps cigarette smokers quit at a much higher rate than traditional NRT. Researchers in the UK determined that around 18,000 more people successfully quit smoking in 2015, due in part to the use of e-cigarettes. While e-cigarettes didn’t seem to convince more smokers to quit, they did appear to help quitters stop for good. Some members of the research team have warned that the study was observational, and couldn’t prove a direct cause for the trend. Others, however, have asserted that e-cigarettes played a major part in the number of successful quitters.
In another review, the combined results of two studies showed that e-cigarettes containing nicotine were instrumental in helping smokers to quit, and seemed to show no immediate health risks. Like the other studies, both were short-term and observational. Nonetheless, they seemed to show that e-cigarettes, when used solely for the purpose of smoking cessation, could be useful.
It remains to be seen how e-cigarettes stack up next to conventional NRT. With e-liquid available in varying levels of nicotine, as well as nicotine-free, vapers are able to control and gradually decrease the amount of nicotine they consume. This may be a more useful approach for light smokers, who do not appear to benefit from NRT at the same rate as heavy smokers.
Testimonies abound from former smokers who have quit by vaping; many of who quit cold turkey. When used as part of a conscious decision to quit—not cut down— more than a few smokers are able to drop tobacco with minimal effort. Exact numbers, however, are hard to come by. A variety of factors can influence a person’s success in quitting, and many of these are not adequately accounted for or understood.
Given the inconsistent results and lack of long-term studies, doctors and officials in the U.S. are reluctant to recommend e-cigarettes as a viable option for quitting smoking. While there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that e-cigarettes are the best new weapon in the war against tobacco, further research and transparency from doctors, scientists, and tobacco companies is needed.