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Survey: E-Cigarettes May Help Smokers Quit

Some E-Cig Smokers Say Devices Helped Them Quit Smoking Cigarettes

FDA Frustrated in Banning E-Cigarettes continued...

This means that companies distributing e-cigarettes in the U.S. cannot sell their products as smoking-cessation devices, even though that is the only public health reason for their use.

"It is a bizarro world where the potential of e-cigarettes is not being realized for legal reasons," Eriksen says.

"This is a great public health opportunity," Siegel says. "You have companies willing to market the product as a smoking-cessation device. But they are wary of doing it because don't want to run afoul of the FDA."

In January, the U.S. Court of Appeals rejected the FDA's appeal.

"FDA is currently evaluating the D.C. Circuit's Jan. 24 ruling and considering its legal and regulatory options," FDA spokesman Jeff Ventura tells WebMD.

Are E-Cigarettes Safe for Smoking Cessation?

Are e-cigarettes safe? The FDA thinks not, for several reasons:

  • E-cigarettes may get people, especially young people, addicted to nicotine, leading to cigarette use.
  • The cartridge may contain toxic ingredients. One FDA study did find a small amount of an antifreeze-like chemical in at least one cartridge, but Siegel points to 16 other studies that find no such contamination. "Based on identified chemicals and quantities, there is basically not anything of alarm," he says.
  • E-cigarettes have not been tested for efficacy and safety. Moreover, they are produced overseas with little oversight to ensure good manufacturing practices. "By being unregulated, there is no knowledge of the purity of what is being inhaled," Eriksen says. "It is a concern about the safety of this new behavior.
  • E-cigarette cartridges contain varying amounts of nicotine, so users don't know what dosage they are getting.

In a recent article, University of California, Riverside researchers Anna Trichounian and Prue Talbot, PhD, note additional safety concerns, such as leaky cartridges that get nicotine on users' fingers and confusing or absent instructions.

But what if e-cigarettes are used by people who want to quit or to cut back on real cigarettes? Just about the only thing on which all sides agree is that cigarettes are extremely dangerous -- not just because they deliver nicotine, but because they burn and deliver highly toxic combustion by-products.

"Everyone would agree that e-cigarettes are safer than traditional smoking," Eriksen says. "That does not mean they are safe. There may be other risks unknown at this point."

Siegel argues that if e-cigarettes are less harmful than real cigarettes, then people who smoke them instead of real cigarettes are reducing the harm they do to themselves. He points out that nicotine replacement patches and nicotine gum aren't totally safe, but that many people keep on using them even after they've stopped smoking cigarettes.

"If it's a choice between smoking and e-cigarettes, you are much better off with the e-cigs," Siegel says. "Even though this looks like smoking, it is a lot better than using regular cigarettes."

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