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You may have seen or heard about e-cigarettes. They appear harmless enough. They may even seem glamorous. But what is the real truth behind these products, and should we trust that they are an effective way to quit smoking?
We know that these devices are popular. The Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association (yes, there is such an association) estimates about 4 million Americans now use e-cigs. They project sales to cross the 1 billion mark by the end of this year. Currently there are more than 250 different brands of e-cigarettes available in different flavors and colors!
What are e-cigarettes?
E-cigarettes are battery operated inhalers that look like regular cigarettes, that consist of a rechargeable lithium battery, a cartridge called a cartomizer and an LED that lights up at the end when you puff on the e-cigarette. The cartomizer is filled with a liquid that typically contains the chemical propylene glycol along with nicotine, flavoring and other additives. When you puff on the device, a heating element boils the liquid until it produces a vapor. The user gets a puff of hot gas that feels a lot like tobacco smoke. When the user exhales, there’s a cloud of vapor that looks like smoke.
How much do they cost?
According to the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, starter kits usually run between $30 and $100. The estimated cost of replacement cartridges is about $600, compared with the more than $1,000 a year it costs to feed a pack-a-day tobacco cigarette habit.
Are e-cigarettes regulated?
No. These devices are not controlled by any agency. The FDA has the authority to regulate e-cigarettes under existing tobacco laws rather than as a medication or medical device. The agency has hinted it will begin to regulate e-cigs soon!
The biggest potential advantage of e-cigarettes is in helping people quit smoking. But the jury is out on that. In fact, The WHO has asked marketers not to make that claim.
For smokers who don’t plan to quit tobacco, some point to e-cigarettes as a way to “smoke” in smoke-free environments such as airplane lounges, restaurants, and workplaces.
Nicotine addiction of any kind is bad, and people with the habit need help quitting, not help continuing their habit in more socially acceptable ways (which e-cigarettes may provide).
Long term effects of e-cigarettes are unknown. Studies have shown that e-cigs contain some hazardous compounds in addition to nicotine.
Rather than quit, e-cigarettes might worsen users’ nicotine habits. Do e-cigarettes help tobacco smokers quit?
Theoretically, e-cigs may help people quit smoking by preserving the hand to mouth ritual of smoking, but this is based on the notion that e-cigarettes are less harmful. As of yet, though, little evidence exists to support this theory.
In a recent study published in the medical journal Lancet, researchers compared e-cigarettes to nicotine patches and other smoking cessation methods and found them statistically comparable in helping smokers quit. So, experts consider e-cigarettes promising but not fool proof.
E-cigarettes are being advertised in a rather glamorous portrayal of smoking or “vaping”. Many experts worry that this may entice youngsters, especially since many popular brands come in flavors and colors that seem designed to appeal to a younger generation of smokers.
There are no federal age restrictions to prevent kids from obtaining e- cigarettes. Most e-cigarette companies voluntarily do not sell to minors, yet “vaping” among young people is on the rise.
A Center for Disease Control and Prevention study found nearly 1.8 million young people had tried e-cigarettes and the number of middle and high school student e-smokers doubled between 2011 and 2012.
By Dr. Chris Prakash, eParisExtra
This information is strictly an opinion of Dr. Prakash and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Dr. Chris Prakash is a contributing columnist and author of eParisExtra’s “The Doctor is In” column. He is a medical oncologist at Texas Oncology Paris and board certified in Internal Medicine, Oncology and Hematology. He lives in Paris, TX with his wife and two children. You can reach him at (903) 785-0031 or Sucharu.firstname.lastname@example.org.