Electronic Cigarettes’ Role in Smoking Cessation Stirs Debate

The role of electronic cigarettes in helping people quit smoking is stirring debate, according to The New York Times. A new study suggests e-cigarettes can substantially decrease cigarette use. But some public health groups have objected to the devices, saying they reduce the incentive for people to stop smoking, and could encourage young people to start.

The new study, published in BMC Public Health, found using e-cigarettes helped smokers substantially reduce the number of cigarettes they smoked, without causing significant side effects. After six months, more than half of participants had reduced regular cigarette use by at least half, and nearly one-quarter had stopped smoking altogether.

E-cigarettes are designed to deliver nicotine in the form of a vapor, which is inhaled by the user. They usually have a rechargeable, battery-operated heating element, a replaceable cartridge with nicotine or other chemicals and a device called an atomizer that converts the contents of the cartridge into a vapor when heated. E-cigarettes often are made to look like regular cigarettes.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced in April that it would regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products, not as drug-delivery devices. Last year, the FDA lost a court case after it tried to treat e-cigarettes as drug-delivery devices, which must satisfy stricter requirements than tobacco products, including clinical trials to prove they are safe and effective. FDA tests found that the liquid in some e-cigarettes contained toxins besides nicotine, as well as cancer-causing substances found in tobacco.

Some public health experts say the level of the cancer-causing agents is similar to those found in nicotine replacement therapy, which contains nicotine extracted from tobacco. Both proponents and critics of e-cigarettes agree the devices should be studied and regulated more, and should not be sold to minors.