While electronic cigarette companies are forbidden to make claims about their products’ effectiveness regarding smoking cessation, a lot of smokers switch to vaping in the hopes that they will finally be able to quit. But can e-cigarettes really help you quit smoking?
Health experts estimate that around 50% of lifetime smokers die prematurely from their habit. Smoking is directly responsible for approximately 90% of lung cancer deaths and approximately 80-90 percent of emphysema and chronic bronchitis deaths. You would think such grim figures could make anyone quit, yet there are still around 45 million smokers in America and hundreds of millions more around the world. Studies have shown nearly 70% of cigarette users actually want to give up the dirty habit, but despite the potentially fatal consequences, they are unable to. Classic nicotine replacement therapies (NRT) like nicotine gum, patches and inhalers have a fail rate of over 98% and just 10% of those who try to quit cold turkey stay smoke-free in the long-run. Like doctor Jed Rose, director of the Duke Center for Smoking Cessation says, “We need better treatments because the current ones just aren’t working all that well.” Could electronic cigarettes do a better job of helping people quit cigarettes for good?
First, let’s see why smoking is so addictive. Mere seconds after inhaling a puff of cigarette smoke, the nicotine it contains reaches the brain and binds to receptor molecules on nerve cells triggering them to release a flood of dopamine and other neurotransmitters that washes over pleasure centers. The effect is almost immediate but very short in duration, prompting the smokers to take more puffs and light-up again very soon. Over time, the number of nicotine receptors increases, along with the need to smoke at shorter intervals to alleviate withdrawal symptoms. But if nicotine were solely responsible for the addiction, NRT should, at least in theory, help ex-smokers get over their cravings. Unfortunately, the dose of nicotine in most medicinal products is not high enough for heavy smokers, and there are also other factors to take into consideration, like the everyday behavior and moods linked to smoking: the need to relieve stress or activities that trigger the desire to reach for a cigarette. That’s what sets electronic cigarettes apart from all the other conventional smoking cessation methods.
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that e-cigarettes can actually help smokers quit. Forums are filled with stories of users who had tried everything from patches to going cold-turkey and failed, ultimately managing to kick the habit with these revolutionary battery-powered devices. But such reports, however numerous, are not enough to convince scientists and authorities that e-cigarettes are indeed effective smoking cessation aids. Most online media outlets would have you believe there is very little scientific evidence on the subject, when in fact there are plenty of studies that offer very encouraging results. The latest one, entitled entitled ”Efficiency and Safety of an Electronic Cigarette (ECLAT) as Tobacco Cigarettes Substitute: A Prospective 12-Month Randomized Control Design Study” followed 300 smokers with no intention of quitting over a period of 12 months. They were give e-cigarettes with different nicotine doses, and at the end of the study, 13% of them quit smoking entirely. That’s a pretty big number considering they had no intention of quitting cigarettes at the start of the clinical trial.
Another 12-month study conducted by researchers from Catania, Italy, showed the use of electronic cigarettes substantially decreases tobacco cigarette consumption in patients suffering from schizophrenia. The primary finding was a 50% reduction in cigarettes smoked per day in 7 of the 14 test subjects. It’s a known fact that quitting smoking is particularly difficult for people suffering from mental disorders, so the result was surprisingly successful. In 2011, an online survey conducted by Dr. Michael Siegel revealed that out of the 222 respondents, 31% reported a total abstinence from tobacco cigarettes for at least 6 months, 66.8% reported a significant reduction in the number of cigarettes they smoked, and 48.8% percent quit cigarettes for a shorter period of time.
But the results of the biggest electronic cigarette study are yet to be revealed. Called “ASCEND: A Study of Smoking Cessation with Electronic Nicotine Devices”, it aims to evaluate the quitting efficacy, acceptability, and adverse effects of an e-cigarette compared with those of nicotine patches and placebos (0% nicotine electronic cigarettes).657 smokers are involved in the research, and the findings are to be revealed by September.
Electronic cigarettes were invented 10 years ago, and they only entered the US market in 2008, so it’s much to early to tell if electronic cigarettes can really help smokers quit. But judging from the data we have so far, they show great promise. However, if the FDA decides to go the same route as the European Union and regulate e-cigarettes as medicinal products, the results will be completely different. Right now, electronic cigarette liquids contain variable doses of nicotine to fit every ex-smoker, but the EU plans to ban all e-liquids with a nicotine concentration of over 4mg/ml. That’s just not enough to satisfy the nicotine cravings of most e-cigarette users and will most likely render the devices utterly useless.
Photo credit: Opa