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Sunday, September 16, 2012

E-cigarettes: Do they work? Are they safe?

You've seen e-cigarettes advertised and even seen the glowing light and water vapor smoke across a restaurant.  But do they help you to quit smoking? Are they safe? #dox

E-cigarettes vaporizes a solution of a liquid (rubbing alcohol with nicotine) and flavoring compounds. This allows the vapor to be inhaled and the nicotine absorbed into the blood stream just like the nicotine in tobacco smoke.

Is it absolutely safe? Probably not.  Bloomberg News (9/4, Kitamura) reports that according to a study from University of Athens researchers, presented at the European Respiratory Society annual meeting, "electronic cigarettes cause damage to the lungs," which "challenges earlier research suggesting the devices to quit smoking are harmless." In a statement, study author Christina Gratziou remarked, "We do not yet know whether unapproved nicotine delivery products, such as e-cigarettes, are safer than normal cigarettes, despite marketing claims that they are less harmful. This research helps us to understand how these products could be potentially harmful." The piece notes that "the study follows a separate paper presented last month by researchers at the Athens-based Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center at the European Society of Cardiology annual meeting that said e-cigarettes prompted no adverse effects on cardiac function."

Is it relatively safe?  Relative to smoking actual tobacco that is...maybe.  We definitely know of the thousands of carcinogens in real cigarettes and we definitely know of the severe lung disease.  We definitely know lung cancer is the number one cancer killer above breast, prostate and cervical cancers combined.

As a transition to tobacco smoking cessation I think we have to keep an open mind. The addiction to smoking is in two ways--nicotine dependency and behavioral dependency.  Some smokers simply are accustomed to doing something with their fingers and lips.  Even the sense and sight of a rising vapor may be a source of comfort.  The very process of inhaling deeply stimulates a state of relaxation (parasympathetic response).

Given the absolute dangers of continued tobacco smoking it may be justifiable to not immediately seek perfection with every smoker who has failed attempts to quit and, rather, utilize a "good enough" solution.

Snus, smokeless tobacco, also falls into this category.

This article has been updated with current data and republished.  The original publication was on August 10, 2012.