Do E-Cigs Help? or Make Matters Worse?
There are an estimated 45 million Americans who smoke and it is a habit that has the potential to cut life expectancies by a decade and is a leading cause of cancer and lung disease. Even though that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) state that 70 percent of smokers want to quit smoking, many smokers are unable to quit despite the deadly consequences. According to an article published earlier this spring written by Alisa Opar in Scientific American’s online magazine, researchers are looking into the efficacy of electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes as a potential smoking cessation tool.
Researchers are focusing on e-cigarettes as a possible smoking cessation tool, as well as other methods such as medications and counseling techniques. For those who try to quit smoking “cold turkey”, there is a success rate of less than ten percent. Even with counseling available as well as various aids such as nicotine patches and gums that were approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration, three-fourths of smokers who use those products starting smoking within a year. Researchers are looking to use a multidimensional approach in smoking cessation programs, including the use of medications, social media campaigns, as well as what role genetics play in regards to what segments of the population can become addicted to smoking.
By design, smoking treatments help users wean themselves off of nicotine gradually or end their cravings and that is usually done by nicotine delivery via patches or by chewing gum. There are also non-nicotine treatments that are available including bupropion as well as varenicline, which is a nicotine blocker in the brain. However, in studies done by the FDA regarding several of this trea
tments, there has been only a limited degree of success as regards to cessation.
The use of e-cigarettes as a cessation tool is believed to address the cues that prompt smoking. Electronic cigarette users inhale small doses of nicotine from battery-powered devices that look like cigarettes. The carcinogen levels found in e-cigarette cartridges, according to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Public Health Policy, is about one thousandth the level as found in regular cigarette smoke. However, e-cigarettes are not regulated as medicine by the Food and Drug Administration and up until recently only anecdotal evidence on its effectiveness has been reported.
However, there are two e-cigarette trial studies that were conducted is which it is hoped that its’ results will show the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool. The first study was conducted in Italy and involved a study group of 300 smokers. In this small study, of the nine smokers that gave up smoking entirely, six of those smokers had used e-cigarettes. This smaller pilot study was a follow-up to a larger study done in Italy in 2011 and was published in BMC Public Health. The results of that study showed that about two-thirds of participants were eager to continue the use of e-cigarettes as part of a plan to quit smoking with a quit rate of just over 22%. However, the sample size of this particular study comprised of only 40 participants.
The second main study cited in the Scientific American article in an ongoing study of 657 smokers in New Zealand. This study, which was not yet completed at the time of publication of the Scientific American article hopes to provide information on the possible side-effects of e-cigarettes. There are some countries, such as England, who leading the charge to have e-cigarettes sold as medicine. There is a push by e-cigarette makers in that country to approve Nicadex, a “next generation” e-cigarette, as medicine.
While initial results from the first wave of studies show some promise, there is not just one way to quit and there needs to be a multi-faceted approach regarding smoking cessation programs. More research will need to be done on a larger scale to determine the degree of effectiveness e-cigarettes have in smoking cessation. E-cigarettes ultimately can be seen as another tool, along with counseling and already existing smoking cessation products that can help smokers kick the habit.