Study Raises Questions About Using E-Cigs to Quit Smoking

A new study contradicts the claims of many electronic cigarette makers that the devices help tobacco cigarette smokers quit, suggesting that smokers who also use e-cigs are no more likely to kick the habit than smokers who don’t use the controversial new devices.

The research was published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine on March 24, focusing on more than 900 tobacco cigarette smokers in 2011. Researchers found 88 smokers who also smoke e-cigarettes or “vapes”, following up with them one year later.

Dr. Mitchell H. Katz and researchers from the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco found participants who were still smoking in 2012 continued the same habits from one year earlier. Smoking e-cigs had no effect on their cessation or decreasing how many cigarettes they smoked each day.

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Approximately eight percent of the people surveyed had the intention of quitting smoking within the next month. Yet, e-cigarette use among those smokers did not link to successfully quitting.

E-cigarettes are battery powered devices that heat a nicotine liquid solution into a vapor which is inhaled by the user. The solution is sold in varying amounts of nicotine and comes in hundreds of tantalizing flavors, especially for teens, including bubble gum, orange cream, gummy bears and other fruit candy flavors.

The devices have been aggressively marketed by the manufacturer as a safe product, with many consumers given the impression that the use of electronic cigarettes will help them stop smoking tobacco cigarettes.

Critics of this latest study point to flaws in the design of the research and the small group of participants in providing real answers to whether e-cigarettes helps or hinders the process of quitting traditional cigarettes.

Participants did not indicate why they tried e-cigarettes or how long they had used them. They only accounted for their initial intention to quit smoking tobacco cigarettes. However, health experts point to prior studies which reveal similar findings that suggest e-cigarettes may not be as helpful to quitting as many hope.

A study published earlier this month implicated e-cigarettes as a gateway to tobacco cigarette use, especially for teens. The study found e-cigarette use among teens was associated with higher odds of smoking tobacco cigarettes.

Public health experts share concerns regarding the health impact e-cigarettes may pose, considering many consumers view them as safe quitting tools. The FDA issued a health warning to the contrary in 2009, after a slew of carcinogenic chemicals were confirmed in laboratory tests of the devices. Chemicals such as diethylene glycol, an ingredient in antifreeze, and nitrosamines, known cancer causing chemicals, were found.

Other studies suggest the secondhand vapor emitted by e-cigarette users may cause secondhand nicotine exposure. Researchers found significant levels of secondhand nicotine was emitted by users of e-cigarettes.

Overall, researchers and critics agree, more research is needed to determine the true health effects of e-cigarettes.

Photo Courtesy of Lindsay Fox via Flickr CC by 2.0

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