E-Cigarettes Not a Good Way to Quit Smoking

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 vaping with electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes or e-cigs), to quit smoking? If so, you should probably re-think your plan because these devices may not be the solution you’re hoping for.

Let’s get right into why that’s true, as well as what you can do instead…

E-Cigarettes Are Not Proven Cessation Tools

Despite some clever positioning by e-cig makers, e-cigs are not proven to be effective tools for helping people quit smoking – nor are they approved as such by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

What e-cigs claim is that they give vapers more control over the amount of nicotine they use. In theory, this enables you to titrate yourself down to the point where you’re using very small amounts, until ultimately you’re using none at all.

Does this work? At this point, the research is all over the map. Some studies show e-cigs are helpful, some show they’re not. Others suggest that e-cig vaping can actually increase cigarette smoking, rather than reduce it. What they all agree on, though, is that more data is needed. Given that, I think it’s best to look at other nicotine replacement therapies that don’t include some of the health hazards of e-cigs.

Vaping Dangers

A big selling point of e-cigs is their so-called “safety” relative to old-school cigarettes and cigars. While it’s true that e-cigs do protect you from exposure to the tobacco toxins linked with cardiovascular disease, respiratory dysfunction, cancer, and more, they’re not exactly good for you, either. Case in point: In 2014, a group of Saudi researchers analyzed 28 published studies relating to the health dangers of vaping with e-cigarettes. Through their analysis, they learned that e-cig 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 dangerous for 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-cigs 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-Cigs Also Dangerous as Gateway Devices

If you’ve seen the news lately, you know that e-cig use among teens is surging. According to the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey – a survey funded by the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – there was a 78 percent increase in use among high school students between 2017 and 2018. The growth has been so pronounced, in fact, that the FDA has proposed new regulations for e-cig sales, in hope to reduce the number of young people who experiment with the devices and wind up getting hooked.

Parent and grandparents should beware of this trend. Multiple studies now have shown that kids who smoke e-cigarettes are more likely to move on to the real thing. In this case, the best way to stop is to never start in the first place.

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 compromise 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 – to after work or after dinner, 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. Get moving (and quitting) with yoga. Yoga-based interventions have shown success for smoking cessation.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 recent study published 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Reward yourself: for every pack of cigarettes you would have smoked, put the money saved in a jar and treat yourself to something nice.
  9. 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.

References:

© 2015, 2019 Stephen Sinatra, M.D. All rights reserved.

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5 Comments

  1. George Boase

    on March 8, 2016 at 5:57 pm

    Your information is both faulty and seriously outdated. For instance you list “burns” as a bad effect. That’s completely ridiculous.

    E-cigs have a near 100% success rate for people quitting. The effects of nicotine are seriously over rated and that assumes a person is using e-juice with nicotine. All e-juice is available in 0 levels.

    To say it’s a “gateway” is completely without foundation. Smoking is smoking and vaping is vaping. I’ve NEVER known a single person to start vaping and then switch to cigarettes. It makes no sense. That’s like saying if a person drinks water all of a sudden they’re going to start drinking vodka instead.

    Then you recommend hypnosis. Where did THAT come from. I’ve never known ANYONE who succeeded doing that.

  2. Fran Cline

    on December 11, 2018 at 12:37 pm

    I used Chantix and hypnotherapy and I succeeded in quitting smoking, 2.5 years free. The adding pounds will definitely happen but don’t worry you get a great burst of energy about the 3rd or 4th month and the gym will become your best bud, any pounds gained will just fall off. I tried vaping 0% nicotine for the first few months but eventually found I carried it just in case I had a bad moment, those also faded with time.

  3. Dan Stevenson

    on May 30, 2019 at 12:28 pm

    First I do not trust studies done by saudies. Second, there was a very good documentary done by a group in the UK that showed in detail the harmful effects of smoking traditional cigarettes compared to vaping. They used many volunteers and monitored their health throughout the trials via blood work and other tests. The biggest problem they found with vaping is that any possible health risks are caused by certain flavorings and obviously nicotine, if the vapors chose to include it in their juice. I make my own juice so I know exactly what is in it and I do not add nicotine. Vaping is being given a bad rap due to the overwhelming amount of misinformation or purpously negative information. My wife was a long time smoker and switched to vaping and I am very happy she did so.

  4. James

    on May 30, 2019 at 1:59 pm

    As a Hight school teacher I discuss this issue with my students. Students in middle school are finding it easy to
    Obtain vaping material and easily conceal
    The device.. Can thus be a good behavior?
    The attraction is made desirable for the sweet taste and all the reasons humans take up smoking of any kind.
    The first letter in this list is revolting,
    Not to mention ridiculous!!

  5. sheila jaworski

    on December 21, 2020 at 9:38 am

    firstly the dangers with vaping are because some company decided to lace their vape with vitamin E which is completely toxic in any form when ignited by any source, secondly the information you have is out of date, even the FDA has said they were wrong and the saudi’s have said they were wrong and that the recent deaths were because of the acetate found in the FDA vaping products, not the VG or PG contained in a real vaping product which has to be filled by the customer not a cartage that is already filled. prefilled anything has the issue of it being so called “Laced” with just about anything. Good E-juice companies know that e-juice has 3 main components PG in 20%, VG in 70% and flavoring, the added nicotine is your choice no one else’s! They also know that sugar is a extreme no because burning sugar or any sweetener is a horrible idea! never and i can not stress this enough NEVER ever buy e-juice from a company that has NOT put their pmta in or uses a pre-filled cartage as you can NOT be sure what is exactly in that and can have the above issues. there have been constant studies on the difference between pre-filled and ones you fill yourself, recently the FDA has found toxic levels in pre-filled cartages, not vape tanks that have to be filled by the customers themselves. say no to juul as you have no idea what toxins can be inside it, as an original vaper i have to tell you e-juice should NOT give you cotton mouth, or a cough, your blood pressure should NOT sky rocket, you should not become sick in any way shape or form! make sure to ask the companies you are planning to buy from if they have their pmta filed and if you can see it, if they refuse to let you see it then do not buy from them. i work with a few companies who have their pmta and i have never had any issues with them, i did have an issue when i first started because i read the so called unofficial documents on the effects of PG and VG, i did not do my own medical research, i would suggest before any changes from a cig to vaping to know your products, the difference between an e-cig and a mod or a vape verses pre-filled. there are a ton of differences and not everything is a e-cig, or mod, or vape. there is to much here to actually explain the differences here. however i will say that Vegetable Glycerin (VG) is a non toxic vegetable based liquid that is known for being very sweet and thick. Due to its density, a base that is 100% VG is very thick and difficult to vape effectively. A combined PG 20%/VG 70% blend is, therefore, recommended., Propylene Glycol [PG] is also non toxic and commonly used to carry flavor in food products, as an ingredient in food coloring and also used as an additive in various medicines. also if you do decide to vape one other thing, turn your vape down! you are in control i vape at 40watts and i don’t hack cough, keep your wattage low people! my bp has gone from 154/117 to 140/85 and back to normal so that is 1 of the benefits of stopping cigs, the other is here i am in my 40’s and i have no more lung issues, i used to have pneumonia every other week. walking pneumonia which is the worst. my heart rate would be all over the place and my bp would be just all over the board from stage 3 to stage 1 hypertension and now its not even close to it. all i can recommend after you do your research find a good e-juice and a “Mod” not a refilled cartage pick your flavor and nic level and has hard as it is, give yourself a month and step it down until you are at 0 nic then you can take yourself off, stay away from e-cigs which look just like a normal cig, stay away from pre-filled anything and make sure the company has the ptma. lastly all i can say is research research research!!!!

    Signed,
    someone who had stage 3 hypertension who now has not even close to stage 1 and doesn’t smell like an ash tray!

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