E-Cigarettes as Quit-Smoking Tools?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013 - 2:22pm
Associate Professor of Oncology, Department of Health Behavior

“Quitting smoking” is always among the top list of New Year’s resolutions. And for good reason. To help kick the habit, many turn to smoking cessation aides, and e-cigarettes have emerged as an alternative to traditional tobacco products. But do they help you quit? Here’s what we know:

What are e-cigarettes?

E-cigarettes are devices that use an electrically controlled heating element to vaporize a solution of nicotine and flavorants, which is then inhaled.  They have been promoted as an alternative to traditional tobacco cigarettes for smokers.  A court ruling in 2011 classified them as tobacco products rather than drugs, so long as claims were not made that they helped smokers quit.

Are they effective in helping people quit smoking?

There haven’t been any published randomized trials, which are the usual gold standard for judging efficacy for cessation.  At least one such trial is underway.  However, the limited published findings and anecdotal evidence from users are promising that they may be helpful for moving people off of cigarettes.  But in the absence of official approval from FDA, we can’t recommend them as cessation aides. 

Do they pose any type of harmful health effects like regular cigarettes?

E-cigarettes are clearly less hazardous to health compared to regular cigarettes. The vapor contains nicotine, a carrier (often propylene glycol or glycerine), flavorants, and some other components.  Some studies have identified toxicants in the cartridges, but at concentrations far below cigarettes. 

Because they deliver nicotine, they still carry risk of addiction.  A potential health concern with these products is that they are currently unregulated, which means that there can be uneven quality of manufacture, discrepancies between labeling and actual contents, inadequate instructions, and no oversight of marketing. There may also be unforeseen health risks associated with repeated inhalation of the vapor over the long term. We just don’t know one way or the other at this time.

Where can one get e-cigarettes? 

Until recently, they were primarily available on the internet or specialty shops.  However, in the last year, some manufacturers have moved to market them in retail outlets alongside cigarettes.

If you’re looking to quit, congrats! Good for you. To help you get started, read some of the Top Ten Tips to Quit here on RPCI Cancer Talk, and don’t hesitate to contact the NYS Smokers’ Quitline at 1-866-NY-Quits or www.nysmokefree.com for help. 

For more commentary from Dr. Richard O'Connor on e-cigarrettes, visit the links below.