*“E-cigarettes” are now being widely promoted as a way for people to quit smoking.
E-cigarettes were invented in China by a company called Ruyan in 2003 and first introduced to the U.S. market in 2007, and it’s gaining both friends and foes across the world. But what’s the deal? Can they really help you quit smoking? Proponents of e-cigarettes say yes and think they’re better than smoking tobacco cigarettes — both for their health and for their wallets. But the FDA and other health agencies aren’t so sure. They want to know more about the side effects of the electronic cigarette, and some are calling for tight regulations. Currently e-cigs aren’t subject to U.S. tobacco laws because they don’t contain tobacco, which makes them hard to regulate — and keep out of the hands of minors.
Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes for short, are battery-powered devices filled with liquid nicotine (a highly addictive chemical) that is dissolved in a solution of water and propylene glycol.
Nicotine is a colorless, poisonous chemical, derived from the tobacco plant. Nicotine is highly addictive. When a person inhales cigarette smoke, the nicotine in the smoke is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and starts affecting the brain within 10 seconds. This results in a number of chemical reactions that involve hormones and neurotransmitters such as adrenaline, dopamine and insulin.
So, are e-cigarettes safe?
A top concern is the nicotine delivery rate. With nicotine patches and gum, the nicotine delivery is regulated, with small amounts of nicotine released slowly into the bloodstream. But with traditional cigarettes and now e-cigarettes, heat creates a freebase form of nicotine that is more addictive – or what smokers would call more satisfying. The nicotine goes right into the lungs, where it is quickly channeled into the heart and then pumped into the brain.
Nicotine is Extremely Poisonous. One drop of pure nicotine is enough to kill a person. Smokers receive much smaller doses than that in tobacco products, however. For instance, a cigarette contains approximately 10 milligrams of nicotine, but only one or two milligrams is inhaled directly by the smoker.
Electronic or e-cigarettes are devices designed to mimic cigarettes. The metal tubes are designed to look like real cigarettes and contain a cartridge filled with a nicotine-laced liquid that is vaporized by a battery-powered heating element. Smokers inhale the nicotine vapor when they draw on the device, as they would a regular cigarette. Most e-cigarettes claim to contain nicotine, and some claim to also sell nicotine-free cartridges.
Unlike tobacco products, there are no current laws in effect prohibiting the use of e-cigarettes in public places, so concern about “second-hand smoke” continues to be real.
You already know smoking causes lung cancer, emphysema, and heart disease, but you’re still lighting up. Over the years of working with people and their health issues, rarely have I encountered a more difficult issue than smoking. Most smokers really want to quit, but it seems the urge and addictive nature of the habit always wins. If only it wasn’t for nicotine! Nicotine has been said to be even more addictive than alcohol, heroin and cocaine, and it can take as few as four cigarettes to develop a lifelong addiction.
The body responds immediately to the chemical nicotine in the smoke when an individual is smoking a cigarette. There is an immediate increase in blood pressure, increase in heart rate and in the flow of blood from the heart. The arteries begin to narrow. There is carbon monoxide present in smoke which reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood. This creates an imbalance between the demand for oxygen by the cells and the amount of oxygen the blood can supply the cells.
Nicotine also produces physical and mood-altering effects in the brain that are both pleasing and calming for many individuals. This calming, pleasant effect reinforces the continued use of nicotine and then the ensuing dependence. The dependence on nicotine is based on both psychological and physical factors. For instance, the smoker develops certain typical behaviors associated with smoking. Usually, a cigarette is smoked after eating, while drinking a cup of coffee or alcohol, in stressful situations or when another smoker is smoking.
The ingredients of e-cigarettes certainly have very little in common with tobacco cigarettes. Nicotine, the only ingredient found in both products, is mainly used to wean smokers off traditional cigarettes and is not one of the harm-inducing ingredients associated with lung cancer in smokers. The other ingredients in the “e-juice” at the core of e-cigarettes are propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, and food flavorings – all of which are used in other food products.
E-cigarettes may one day turn out to be a useful tool to help people quit smoking. But until the FDA regulates them and more research is conducted, users won’t know for sure what they’re inhaling or how much nicotine they’re getting.
How you choose to quit smoking is a matter of personal choice. The best method is the one that works for you. With this in mind, doing whatever it takes to be successful – and safe – is how many people ultimately approach it.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.
Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!
The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.
Glenn Ellis, is a Health Advocacy Communications Specialist. He is the author of Which Doctor?, and Information is the Best Medicine. A health columnist and radio commentator who lectures, nationally and internationally on health related topics, Ellis is an active media contributor on Health Equity and Medical Ethics.
For more good health information, visit: www.glennellis.com
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