E-cigarettes is a more popular Google search term than nicotine replacement therapy, Chantix (an anti-smoking drug), or snus (a new form of smokeless tobacco), according to a study published online this week by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. A survey released at the same time by the journal hinted that the battery-powered cylindrical devices, which provide nicotine but no tar or smoke, might help people kick the habit. But we still have our reservations. Here’s why.
The survey focused on 216 people who bought e-cigarettes for the first time. Six months later, 31 percent had stopped smoking tobacco cigarettes, and of those 57 percent were still using e-cigarettes, 9 percent were using other tobacco-free nicotine products, and about a third had given up all nicotine products. But the survey had a very low response rate: it was initially sent to about 5,000 users. So it’s possible that smokers who were less successful with e-cigarettes were less likely to complete the survey. Moreover, smoking abstinence was self-reported, so the respondents might have exaggerated their success. Finally, the survey only looked at one brand of e-cigarettes.
But our biggest concern remains the unknown safety of e-cigarettes. Unlike other smoking devices, e-cigarettes are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, since there is still legal debate whether they qualify as medical devices. But the FDA has warned that e-cigarettes contain potentially harmful chemicals, such as diethylene glycol, an ingredient in antifreeze. And it has sent letters to five electronic cigarette distributors citing violations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) including unsubstantiated claims and poor manufacturing practices.
Yes, it’s definitely worth trying to quit smoking. But you’re best off sticking with medically proven cessation aids.
—Ginger Skinner, web associate editor
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