Tuesday, October 29, 2013

E-Cigarettes – Helpful or Harmful?


Peter R. Coleman, M.D. 
Electronic cigarettes have become a $2 Billion market in the US. The technology is fairly simple. Long white cylinders are made to look just like real cigarettes, and they are now even being made to have the texture and feel of real cigarettes. These e-cigarettes are loaded with an electronic vaporizer and a liquid mixture of nicotine. When the smoker – or “vaper”, according to the new lingo – sucks on the e-cigarette the nicotine fluid is vaporized and is inhaled directly and rapidly into the lungs. It sounds perfect - smoking without all of the nasty tars and other chemicals that presumably are the cause of all that lung cancer and heart disease.  

The advantages of these products are fairly obvious. People can supposedly avoid all of the health risks of real cigarettes, be able to smoke in airplanes and public spaces, and maybe use them to help them quit real cigarettes. But questions are starting to arise about how safe they really are and whether there will be unintended negative consequences. They are currently unregulated because the government hasn’t yet decided whether they are a tobacco product, a drug to aid in stop smoking, or something else. The e-cigarettes contain some other chemicals including propylene glycol which is best known as antifreeze. E-cigarettes are made with a number of flavors – some to simulate the burn and flavor of real cigarettes and some to introduce totally new flavors including root beer and cotton candy. It is quite possible these new flavors, and the notion that these are safer than real cigarettes, will induce non-smokers and children to try them. Many of these may get addicted to e-cigarettes and then switch to real cigarettes. It turns out that nicotine is one of the most addictive drugs known – especially when it is directly inhaled into the lungs. Does anyone remember the crack epidemic of the 1980s and 90s? Many recovering heroin addicts will tell us that quitting smoking is actually harder than quitting heroin.  

It is certainly not clear if switching to e-cigarettes actually helps people to quit real cigarettes. I have a few patients who have switched, but none of them a have completely given up the cigarettes yet. And, many of them are now smoking both – and feeling good about the fact that they are smoking less real cigarettes.  

It seems clear that e-cigarettes are safer than real ones. And it also seems clear they are here to stay. The big tobacco companies are moving into the market as quickly as they can. But, if e-cigarettes induce people to “vape” who never were smokers in the first place, then this product may just be the next big addictive scourge.  

At The Coleman Institute, we specialize in helping people get clean and stay clean from alcohol and drugs.  If you or someone you love is in need of detox off of opiates, benzos, alcohol, Methadone, or Suboxone, please do not hesitate to contact Ms. Jennifer Pius or Mrs. Amy Stewart at 1-877-773-3869.  We're here to help you!  And, if you decide you want to quit smoking, we support that decision as well.  

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