Honest Evaluations of Smoking Substitutes, Part I: The E-Cigarette Fad

e-cigarettes 1

In just a few short years, e-cigarettes have gone from obscure party gimmick to billion dollar industry. Without a doubt, e-cigarettes are the biggest fad to hit the smoking world since the invention of “light” cigarettes in the 1970s, and it’s not hard to see why. E-cigarette makers claim to offer smokers the opportunity to keep on smoking without suffering health problems or enduring social stigmatization from non-smokers.

The e-cigarette industry’s growth has been so explosive that it’s already attracted scrutiny from federal regulatory agencies and health advocacy groups. Since there have only been a few studies of e-cigarette smokers so far, it’s impossible to confirm either the total safety of e-cigs or any negative side effects – in other words, the jury is still out. Some health professionals insist that e-cigarettes are a dangerous and untested invention, while others applaud it for luring smokers away from carcinogenic tobacco.

As the debate rages on, companies like Blu have started to run national TV advertisements and snag celebrity endorsements, further injecting e-cigarettes into the heart of mainstream culture. But none of this added scrutiny has helped the public definitively answer the biggest questions about e-cigarettes: are they actually a safe alternative to cigarettes, and do they really help smokers kick their tobacco habits?

 

LET’S BACK UP, WHAT IS AN E-CIGARETTE?

E-cigarettes are essentially portable vaporizers that contain a nicotine-infused liquid solution. When the smoker inhales, the e-cigarette heats up the liquid and delivers a hit of nicotine-enriched vapor. e-cigarettes come in various shapes and sizes: most resemble the shape and appearance of a real cigarette, while other, larger models look like electronic hookahs.

 

WHAT’S SO “GREAT” ABOUT THEM?

e-cigarettes 2E-cigarettes have been aggressively marketed like the iPod of smoking – that is, a revolutionary piece of technology that has the power to redefine a well-worn human habit. In some ways, this rings true: it’s a sleek, convenient nicotine delivery device that fits right in your pocket, and it’s far more convenient to use than a cigarette. It doesn’t make your clothes reek of stale cigarettes, for one. Better yet, you can smoke an e-cigarette in places where cigarettes have been thoroughly banned: in bars, restaurants, elevators, and even your office. Given these promising claims, it’s no surprise that the overwhelming majority of e-cigarette users are former or current cigarette smokers. Most smokers who switch to e-cigs fall into one of two groups: those who use them as a safer alternative to tobacco, and those who try them as a smoking cessation aid.

 

THEY’RE LESS HARMFUL THAN SMOKING TOBACCO, RIGHT?

The central appeal of e-cigarettes is that they produce a vapor instead of actual tobacco smoke. Since most of the carcinogens in cigarettes come from inhaling burnt tobacco leaves (rather than nicotine per se), many smokers have embraced the e-cigarette as a way to have their cake and eat it too. They get to keep on smoking, and at the same time mitigate many of smoking’s worst health effects. It’s important to note, however, that the health effects of e-cigarettes have not been proven yet, and a number of doctors have spoken out about their potential health risks. Nonetheless, many smokers choose to believe that since vapor is less harmful than smoke, it’s at least a moderate improvement over using cigarettes.

 

THEY MUST BE CHEAPER THAN CIGARETTES

Another popular feature of e-cigarettes is their price. Since many brands of e-cigarettes and liquid cost less than a pack-a-day cigarette habit, some smokers try switching over to e-cigarettes to reduce the cost of their nicotine addiction without quitting outright. This doesn’t mean that e-cigarettes are dirt cheap, however: a Blu starter pack costs at least $50, and disposable e-cigs often cost as much as $8 each. Given that one disposable e-cigarette contains roughly the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, e-cig users could potentially end up spending more money.

 

THEY’RE ABOUT AS EFFECTIVE AS PATCHES AND GUM

Research on e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation aid is still relatively scarce, but at least one recent study suggests that it’s roughly as effective as the nicotine patch. That said, the success rate for quitting with the nicotine patch is somewhere between 5 and 7 percent – not exactly promising odds.

 

…AND WHY THEY USUALLY DON’T WORK

e-cigarettes 5That unimpressive single-digit number hints at the biggest flaw with using e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool: like gum and patches, they often fail because they don’t actually help you conquer your addiction to nicotine. Multiple studies have demonstrated that nicotine replacement therapies have some effectiveness in getting smokers to quit for a short period, but the vast majority of the quitters relapse at some point and resume smoking.

In fact, e-cigarettes can just as often make your addiction even stronger. If you’re a daily smoker, you’ll suddenly be able to light up anywhere, anytime, without worrying about health risks, smells, or social stigmas. Nicotine is an insidious drug precisely because its cravings are both persistent and easy to satisfy. In light of that, switching over to e-cigarettes can reflect a certain ambivalence about one’s smoking addiction. Smokers overwhelmingly switch to e-cigarettes because they want to quit smoking, yet they try to do so by clinging to the very ritual that they’re trying to break. One recent study demonstrated that the vast majority of smokers who switched to e-cigarettes either became full-time vapors, or else reverted back to tobacco.

There is also the ambiguity surrounding the safety of e-cigarettes. The most recent consensus among doctors is leaning towards recognition that e-cigarettes are safer than tobacco cigarettes – but they’re not necessarily safe. The e-cigarette industry is largely unregulated, and there aren’t a lot of quality control standards that determine exactly what goes into the cartridges that you vape. In other words, you are still inhaling potentially harmful chemicals that could have negative health consequences down the road. And while nicotine isn’t the leading cause of cancer in cigarettes, nicotine addiction has its own negative health impacts.

Smoking is a form of psychological enslavement. In this context, e-cigarettes are the equivalent of a kinder, gentler, master – and they are rarely the pathway to freedom from addiction. If you’re trying to quit, the temptation to try e-cigarettes will no doubt be strong. After all, their appeal is very similar to the diet supplements advertised on late night TV that promise weight loss and a six-pack without doing any actual dieting or exercise. But in order to permanently break your addiction’s power over you, you’re better off trying therapeutic techniques that focus on willpower and the power of suggestion. At the end of the day, only by eliminating your psychological dependency on nicotine will you truly be able to live a smoke-free life.

Roxana Saidi

In June 2011, Roxana became the third founding team member of The Kerry Gaynor Method. Kerry’s mission to rid the world of cigarettes was a very personal one as many of her friends and acquaintances had already quit smoking thanks to Kerry. Roxana regards her role at the company not as a position, but instead as a leader in a movement to eradicate death, suffering and illness due to cigarettes.

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