Can an electronic cigarette help you quit smoking?
Electronic cigarettes are banned in Australia but some people are buying them online. Do they work and are they safe?
What is an e-cigarette?
The e-cigarette is a cigarette-shaped device powered by a rechargeable battery. The device contains a cartridge of nicotine solution in propylene glycol or glycerine, which is vaporised into a fine mist (by the atomizer) when the user breathes in. Cartridges may also contain flavouring.
Most e-cigarettes have an LED light at the tip which glows red or blue during inhalation. The exhaled mist also looks like smoke, adding to the authenticity of the experience.
What are they used for?
E-cigarettes rapidly deliver nicotine which relieves cravings and withdrawal symptoms when quitting smoking. Most people use e-cigarettes to help them quit.
Others use e-cigarettes to cut down their smoking, replacing some cigarettes with an e-cig. Some smokers use them as a substitute when in smoke-free areas.
Do they work?
There have been no research studies to test whether e-cigarettes help smokers quit. However, some people have reported quitting smoking with e-cigarettes. In many cases, ex-smokers continue to use the e-cigarettes long term to avoid relapsing back to smoking.
Are they safe?
It is highly likely that e-cigarettes are much less harmful than cigarettes. Most of the harm from smoking is from the tars and carbon monoxide released from burning tobacco. Nicotine is not the harmful ingredient in tobacco.
However, we have no evidence yet to be sure e-cigarettes are safe. There have been case reports of ‘lipoid’ pneumonia from the glycerine in the mist and also of e-cigarettes exploding in the mouth.
E-cigarettes are completely unregulated and performance varies widely between brands. There are also concerns about the varying quality control of manufacture.
Current smokers who are interested in quitting are strongly advised to use evidence-based treatments which are proven to be safe and effective: counselling, nicotine replacement therapy (nicotine patch, gum etc), Zyban or Champix. If you have tried these treatments unsuccessfully, don’t give up. Better results can often be achieved with larger doses of medication, combined medications and more intensive support. Speak to Dr Mendelsohn or your health care provider about trying again.
Click here to download an Information Sheet from the Australian Association of Smoking Cessation Professionals on e-cigarettes
1. Caponnetto P. The emerging phenomenon of electronic cigarettes. Expert Review of Respiratory Medicine 2012
2. Foulds J. Electronic cigarettes. International Journal of Clinical Practice 2011
3. Wagener T. Electronic cigarettes - achieving a balanced perspective. Addiction 2012
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