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September 7, 2011

Could E-Cigarettes be a "Healthier" Alternative to Smoking?

CONFESSION TIME: For weeks I was getting emails in my Inbox for something called an "e cigarette". For a long time, I totally thought it was some novelty item. I skimmed the email and saw that "e cig" stood for electronic cigarette (or "electric cigarette"). It still sounded bizarre and surreal to me. Why would I want to smoke electronically? How does one smoke electronically anyway? I imagined elaborate hookah pipes that you plug into wall sockets or battery powered cigarette holders that blow the smoke directly into your mouth. I kid you not. I really thought about this.

Then I read that it was, in fact, an electronic device that simulates a real cigarette. This confused me even more. For a minute, I thought it was an online game of some sort. (The "e" threw me off.) I had absolutely no interest in pretending to smoke cigarettes. What person with any kind of life would want to do that?

In hindsight, I should have known better. (It is painfully embarrassing to realize how stupid it was of me not to understand, but we all have our moments I guess.) When I finally realized what an "e cigarette" actually was, I was intrigued. For those of you who still might not know what it is, an  e cigarette is sort of a cigarette substitute. When you "smoke" it, it produces a vapour that contains nicotine and tastes similar to a real cigarette, but without the other harmful chemicals and odors.

This really got me thinking... Is the e cigarette really a "healthy" alternative to tobacco cigarettes? And could the e cigarette be used as a tool for quitting smoking altogether?

Since I don't smoke, I went to my favorite "smoker" for his opinion. He has been trying to quit for a long time, but it hasn't been easy. According to him, the e cigarette looks and feels a lot like a real cigarette. Unlike the nicotine patch or gum, he said the e cigarette allows him to still feel like he's smoking. Whether this will help him quit entirely is unclear, but he said he did significantly reduce the amount of cigarettes he smoked in a week thanks to the e cig.

According to a website that sells them, the electric cigarette "is one of the best attempts to deliver the experience of smoking, with a huge decrease in the negative health problems that are associated with smoking". However, there has yet to be any concrete agreement among researchers and health organizations on the benefits and adverse effects of e cigarettes.

Since they're still so new, there haven't been that many conclusive controlled studies yet. Therefore the true health effects are not yet known. In July 2009, the FDA discouraged the use of electronic cigarettes, however the American Association of Public Health Physicians has come out in support of them, particularly because of their potential for decreasing the effects of second-hand smoke. A 2010 Boston University School of Public Health study deemed that electronic cigarettes were safer than real cigarettes and might aid in smoking cessation. Other studies have suggested that while e cigarettes aren't "good for you", they don't necessarily pose a higher risk than any other nicotine replacement treatment.

They might be healthier than real cigarettes, but even so, they're still not healthy. They still contain nicotine, which is addictive and comes with its own health risks. However some people might weigh the health risks of e cigarettes vs. real cigarettes and choose the e cig as a "safer" alternative. Also, since they are reusable (as they have changeable refill cartridges) they are theoretically a "greener" alternative to smoking because they'd put a stop the nasty cigarettes butts that are always littering the sidewalk.

My "test subject" said that he thought it might be helpful for smokers who are fiending for a cigarette but are stuck in a non-smoking area, like a bar, restaurant, or non-smoker's home. Now that New York is even cracking down on smoking in outdoor public places, like parks, this might be a viable solution for some smokers. I personally love this idea, but I can see how it might upset smokers. From a totally selfish perspective, I would prefer people to smoke the e cigarettes than real ones, because then I wouldn't have to suffer through their stinky, unhealthy secondhand smoke. Although every person has to make the decision for his or herself and weigh the risks on their own.

What do you think? Have any of our readers tried the e cigarette? Have you found it helpful in quitting smoking/reducing your smoking? Did you experience any negative side effects? Would you recommend it to a friend?

1 comment:

PeaceLove&Pat said...

I did try e-cigs before. We went to hawaii for a vacay and we do not want to buy a $8.00/pack cigarettes and we were intrigue so we bought one.

I used to smoke, I like it since it is odor free and you can basically smoke it every where and you can have the option of not having the liquid nicotine. This is not the reason why I stopped smoking though, it is because I am pregnant. After a while my husband and I went back to smoking the regular cigs, it has something to do with how you pack the cigarette, the burning tabacco, and the way you have to dispose it. At least that was our conclusion.