Can E-Cigs Help You Quit Smoking?
Trying to kick the habit? Smokers who've been experimenting with electronic cigarettes, the battery-powered gadgets that deliver a nicotine fix without the carcinogenic risks of tobacco, might soon find the products harder to come by—but likely safer, as well. The Food and Drug Administration last week proposed new rules that would put electronic cigarettes under their jurisdiction, along with cigars, pipe tobacco, nicotine gels, water-pipe tobacco, and hookahs. Currently, the FDA only is allowed to regulate smokeless tobacco products and conventional cigarettes.
The change is a good thing. The e-cig market has had virtually no federal oversight in the wake of the products' spike in popularity over the past decade. Nobody knows what's in them, or how effective they are as alternatives to smoking. Furthermore, because the cigarette-simulators are not tobacco-based, the FDA had no way to ensure their safety and keep them out of the hands of minors, who might be susceptible to early nicotine addiction, public health experts say. These new rules would make FDA approval of e-cigs and other new products a federal requirement. Presumably, this will raise the bar in quality and safety, as manufacturers of the lower-grade products drop out of the market.
Electronic cigarettes use a nicotine vial that vaporizes the liquid, giving each user a familiar smoking sensation, without the tobacco. Costs vary based on how many charges each device provides, but generally range between $10 and $120. In 2013, e-cigarette sales brought in an estimated $2 billion. The FDA hopes to bind that industry to the same legal restraints manufacturers of conventional cigarettes face, including disclosing product ingredients and preventing sales to those under 18.
The big question—beyond whether they're safe, of course—is whether e-cigarettes actually help smokers tame their addictions in the first place. "Probably yes, but there isn't much evidence so far," says Charles O'Brien, MD, Ph.D, founding director of the Center for Studies of Addiction at the University of Pennsylvania. Because the electronic cigarettes replace the tobacco with something more or less harmless—relatively speaking—it may help the smoker quit in the long run, O'Brien says. That's good, of course: According to the American Cancer Society, tobacco smoke is made up of over 7,000 chemicals, many of which cause cancer, heart, and lung disease. But O'Brien recognizes the consumption of vaporized nicotine could result in an addiction of its own, and can have some mild effects on your heart rate.
If you've been struggling with smoking, check out these alternative ways to put the flame out on your bad habit.