E-Cigarette: Helpful Aid Or Harmful Sub?


One of the themes I have written about many times is how we Americans view healthful change.

For those who are willing to change, there are two camps. In one camp, the minority are willing to take the right approach and do what is necessary to change, knowing their health will benefit over time. The other camp doesn’t really want to change, but they believe they should, and their approach typically is to seek out the most comfortable, easiest avenue, and hope for the best.

A good example is substituting diet soft drinks for the real thing. I wrote about this a few weeks ago. Yes, it’s a change, a comfortable and easy change, but a change that not only doesn’t amount to much, it may create its own unique set of problems.

So, here we are again. Should smokers quit completely and really give their health a boost. Or should they take a different approach, something easier and more comfortable, and choose to smoke E-cigarettes (electronic cigarettes)? That depends on who you talk to.

Those who market these items tell us they are a safe alternative to “real” smoking. In fact, there are no tobacco products involved, and no smoke is produced. Even so, the smoker still enjoys much of the satisfaction of smoking. How so? Here’s how they work.

You inhale as you normally would with a cigarette, and the air flow stimulates a tiny, battery-powered heater to vaporize a chemical that looks like smoke. In turn, when inhaling, you have the sensation of bringing in a puff of warmed gas that feels like tobacco smoke. You then exhale, and it looks like exhaled smoke. The E-cigarette uses replaceable cartridges that vary in price, depending upon whether they contain nicotine, and if so, how much.

Controversy abounds

There are many angles to the controversy surrounding the use of E-cigarettes. A major factor is safety. Are they really as safe as manufacturers claim? Hard to say, because they haven’t been around very long. Think back to when cigarettes were first introduced into mainstream America. They seemed safe at first, and only after they had been around long enough to produce lung cancer and contribute to heart attacks, did we realize the magnitude of the problems they created.

Some criticize the E-cigarette as nothing more than an electronic nicotine delivery system. That’s true, but isn’t that what the nicotine patch does? The difference is, the “patch” is supposed to be a temporary fix for nicotine cravings, and progressively lower doses of nicotine are recommended over time for the weaning process. The E-cigarette can do the same thing and help wean from nicotine. However, the difference is, the E-cigarette is not viewed as a temporary fix, but rather as an ongoing alternative to smoking. As such, aren’t E-cigarettes somewhat like substituting methodone for heroin? Is the problem truly solved, or has another taken its place?

Manufacturers argue that even if E-cigarettes are an ongoing habit, they are much healthier, because you don’t get the cancer-promoting smoke going into the lungs. E-cigarettes have another advantage. Nicotine is one of the most powerful addicting agents, and kicking the habit is incredibly difficult. So difficult, in fact, the odds of successfully quitting smoking and doing so for good are very low.

With this in mind, a recent research study reported that E-cigarettes were much more effective than the nicotine patch or gum, or will power, in helping folks quit smoking — 60 percent more effective. Pretty impressive.

And, there is controversy surrounding marketing, which makes E-cigarettes come across as a really cool thing. If so, is it possible that non-smokers could be lured into using E-cigarettes, especially gullible teens and young adults?

The bottom line

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is concerned about issues of possible addiction and abuse tied to the use of E-cigarettes, and they are taking a hard look. Smart money says wait until more is known before deciding what is best for you. Smarter money says, quitting smoking altogether is clearly the superior approach.

Now that the FDA is proposing rules around e-cigarettes, it’s time to look at how they differ from cigarettes.