I appeared on the local news regarding electronic cigarettes. This is a follow up to a piece on the CBS morning show (see video below). The more closely I investigated this issue, the more I became concerned.
Electronic cigarettes are nicotine delivery systems that look like actual cigarettes. When the user inhales, the nicotine in cartridges within the elecrtonic cigarettes vaporizes the nicotine and it is inhaled. In addition, part of the process leads to the appearance of "smoke," though this is not really smoke, it is essentially water vapor. Though the lack of actual tobacco in these products is theoretically better than cigarettes in some way, mainly decreasing the carcinogenic effect and eliminated harms from second hand smoke, the electronic cigarette is dangerously being promoted as safer alternatives to cigarettes that contain tobacco as well as possible aids to smoking cessation. Make no mistake: these products are not safe, in some ways could be riskier than cigarettes, will not be effective smoking cessation aids, and are scarily unregulated by the FDA and far too available in the US.
Manufacturers and sellers will claim that there is research to support that they are safe, but these are mouse and not human studies, and they are done not by goverment agencies like the FDA, but by the products manufacturers. Thus, there is not good evidence that these products are safe. Though tobacco cigarettes are known to be dangerous, these should not be considered a safe alternative.
Unlike other nicotine products sold in the US like the patch, gum, and lozenge which has gone through intestive testing, the e-cigarette has not. More importantly, the purpose of these approved products is that they slowly release nicotine to help people quit tobacco, and they have studies that prove they work. By vaporizing nicotine, and inhaling it, this will lead to very rapid absorption, and high levels of addiction; possibly even higher than real cigarettes themselves.
Currenlty, most e-cigarettes are made in China and bought on the internet, where it is very difficult for federal agencies to regulate. However, unlike tobacco, which does not (yet) come under FDA jurisdiction, these products are clearly drugs. Though the FDA may have limited ability to stop what is being sold on the Internet from other countries, they must do a better job in regulating what is sold here. These products are being sold in shopping malls in the US, and this must be put to a stop. The World Health Organization has called for the manufacturers of these products to stop making and promoting them.
The good news, is that the rate of smoking in the US has decreased. More importantly, there are very effective ways of quitting. If you are a smoker and interested in quitting, the best thing to do is to speak with your doctor, who can help you work on changing habits and behaviors. There is now very good evidence and current guidelines recommend that EVERY smoker interested in quitting be offered medication. This can be in the form of nicotine replacement such as the patch or gum. Pills have be shown to be even more effective and both bupropion and Chantix are available by prescription. Finally, call 1-800- QUITNOW, a free 24/7 counselling service.
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