A Note on E-Cigarettes

My first encounter with an electronic cigarette, known as an e-cig, was about two years ago at a farm-equipment auction. I found myself staring at the apparatus around the neck of several gentlemen, which reminded me of a Mr. T jewelry item (dating myself and you, too, if you understand this!) Little did I realize as I watched them inhale off their necklaces that the habit would soon sweep the nation in the big-business industry of electronic cigarettes.

E-cigs contain liquid (often flavored) nicotine cartridges which are heated via battery to vapor which can be inhaled like a cigarette in a process known as “vaping.” Although proponents praise the lack of tar and other chemicals found in tobacco, e-cigs do contain nicotine and other traces of chemicals often known to be toxic and cancer causing. There is no regulation of this industry therefore the exact nature of all content is unknown. Little research has been conducted thus far, so there is unconfirmed safety. In addition, some cartridges are manufactured in other countries leading to further unknowns as far as content and chemicals contained.

Marketed as an alternative to smoking cessation, levels of nicotine are still present in electronic cigarettes. Nicotine as a drug has been found to be very hazardous due to its highly addictive nature. Nicotine enters the brain approximately eight to 10 seconds after inhalation. It locks onto brain receptors which cause the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine allowing the user to experience pleasure feelings and the sensation of energy. Unfortunately, this buzz effect quickly fades causing a craving for additional nicotine. Further, the user is found to develop tolerance to the nicotine effect, requiring more use more frequently to achieve the same feeling.

This addiction is complicated by the unpleasant feelings experienced if you try to withdraw from or stop the substance nicotine. An individual may experience sleep disturbance, irritability, depression, restless feelings and anxiety, headaches and hunger. Extremely uncomfortable, these symptoms quickly abate with reuse of nicotine which makes it very hard to avoid the chemical.

Nicotine gum and patches contain small regulated doses of nicotine which can be titrated so an individual can decrease and wean off nicotine. While physicians encourage the users of e-cigs to gradually decrease their levels of nicotine by the purchase of cartridges which have lesser amounts, there is no regulation to ensure these levels. Some experts note that the heating of both traditional cigarettes and e-cigs creates a form of nicotine that is even more addictive. In addition, opponents to the use of e-cigs point to the marketing of fruity flavors of nicotine as a way to attract young people and get them addicted.

While it is known that cigarette smoke provides long-term risks such as damage to arteries and secondary smoke exposure, there is no research about these areas yet with e-cigs. Indoor use is often allowed but needs to be investigated to determine if there is second-hand  hazards associated with vaping similar to those from smoking.

For an individual smoking half a pack per day of cigarettes, the yearly expense is estimated at $1,000 per year while the use of e-cigs is estimated to be $600 annually. While initial statistics have shown that the use of e-cigs rarely lead to a decrease or cessation of smoking, it does provide one option to help people to move toward a smoke-free lifestyle despite the hazards of continued nicotine addiction. Please contact your physician if you are considering smoking cessation to determine if e-cigs or other treatments are best for you.  One thing is certain—the benefits to your health will begin immediately!

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