By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
Are you or a loved one using electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes or e-cigs) to quit smoking? If so, you’re puffing (and huffing) up the wrong tree. Here’s why – it may actually be harder to quit smoking with e-cigs.
Despite what the e-cigarette industry’s marketing messages promote, e-cigarettes are not proven to be an effective, smoking cessation tool. In a California study published in the June 2015 edition of American Journal of Public Health, researchers surveyed smokers and looked into their attempts to quit. They concluded that, “smokers who have used e-cigarettes may be at increased risk for not being able to quit smoking.” It’s worth noting, too, that electronic cigarettes are not approved by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) for treating tobacco dependence.
E-Cigarette Health Hazards
I can’t imagine that anyone doesn’t know that cigarette smoking is one of the deadliest habits, associated with cardiovascular disease, respiratory dysfunction, cancer, and more. I recently read that the side effects of smoking e-cigarettes are just as bad. Case in point: In 2014, a group of Saudi researchers analyzed 28 published studies relating to electronic cigarettes and their hazards. Through their analysis, they learned that e-cigarette use is associated with adverse health effects, including “headache, chest pain, nausea, and cough, and major adverse events, such as hospitalizations for pneumonia, congestive heart failure, seizure, rapid heart rate, and burns related to routine use. Case reports of lung disease attributable to the use of e-cigarettes have also been published.”
Speaking of cancer: While e-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco, they do contain nicotine, with varying concentrations of the drug per puff and per cartridge. Nicotine carries huge health risks.
For one thing, it’s damaging to your heart. It causes blood platelets to stick together, contributing to plaque formation and increasing the risk of a blood clot to the heart. Nicotine also constricts blood vessels, making it harder for your heart to do its job, therefore raising risk of elevated blood pressure.
Nicotine is also a major carcinogen. It stimulates new blood vessel growth in tumors and thus encourages them to grow, explains a report in the Journal of Cellular Biochemistry.Tumors depend on a reliable blood supply to grow and survive. Various tumors and cancers are linked to nicotine consumption: non-small cell and small cell lung cancer; head and neck tumors; gallbladder tumors; and bladder, stomach, kidney, breast, and colorectal cancers.
Finally, nicotine is habit-forming, making e-cigarettes a delivery system for a drug on which you can get hooked. Nicotine activates pleasure centers in the brain, making smokers feel good, even euphoric and craving more of the drug.
Worth mentioning too, is that in 2009, the FDA issued one of the first reports on e-cigarettes. It identified the carcinogens and toxic chemicals found in them – including diethylene glycol, a harmful ingredient in antifreeze. The report noted, too, that the many flavoring agents offered in e-cigarettes contain chemicals that can cause respiratory disease.
E-Cigarettes Can Be a Gateway Device
Parents beware: The use of electronic cigarettes by teens in the U.S. is on the rise. In fact it tripled from 2013 to 2014, surpassing their use of traditional tobacco products such as cigarettes and cigars, says a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and FDA. What’s more, teens who have experimented with electronic cigarettes may be more likely to smoke regular cigarettes, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association – Pediatrics.
Better Ways to Quit Smoking
Folks, if you think I’m coming down hard on electronic cigarettes, I am. They are anything but a healthy alternative to nicotine-addictive cigarettes. They don’t help most people quit smoking, and they only wreck your health. There are much better and proven ways to quit smoking – and stay quit, as I also mention in Ways to Quit Smoking. Here’s how:
1. If you don’t want to quit cold turkey, start delaying that first cigarette of the day as long as you can, for example. This will start changing your daily habit for the better.
2. Set a date when you will stop smoking altogether, and verbalize it to friends and family. A good date to select is over a weekend, when you’re not subject to regular daily demands that could trigger your urge to smoke.
3. Look into whether pharmacotherapy is right for you. Although I dislike many prescription drugs because of adverse side effects, varenicline (Chantix) has been shown in research to be more effective than nicotine patches or gum in helping people abstain from smoking.
4. Try hypnosis. It, too, has been found to work better than nicotine-replacement products to help smokers quit, asserts a 2014 report published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine.
5. Get moving (and quitting) with yoga. Yoga-based interventions have shown success for smoking cessation.
6. Set your environment up for success. Remove all smoking supplies (ashtrays, lighters, cigarettes, and so forth) from your house, car, workplace, etc. to reduce visual reminders that could trigger cravings.
7. Stop worrying about weight gain. Every time I counselled women in my practice to stop smoking, they’d counter with, “But I’ll gain weight!” It turns out this may be a myth. A new study published this year in the journal Appetite revealed that young women who are smokers actually gain more weight than non-smokers. If you’re still concerned about weight gain, my advice is to stock your refrigerator with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to munch on (like carrot sticks, apple slices, sliced melon, grapes, celery sticks, etc.) when hunger or the need to put something in your mouth strikes.
8. Lean on support. Let you closest confidantes know you’re quitting, and ask them to help keep you accountable. If you feel like lighting up, call one of these friends so he or she can talk you down if cravings get strong. Tap into online support too. Smokefree.gov offers an app called quitSTART, designed for teens and adults who want to quit. It offers personalized tips, inspiration, and challenges to help you become smoke-free.
9. Reward yourself: for every pack of cigarettes you would have smoked, put the money saved in a jar and treat yourself to something nice.
10. If you slip up on your first quit smoking attempt, or have caved in a few times before, don’t throw in the towel. In my clinical practice, I’ve seen that it sometimes takes smokers multiple times before they quit for good. Everyone’s path to smoke-free living is different, so it’s important to keep trying and know that you’ll eventually be successful.
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