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Smoking Cessation Health Center

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E-Cigarettes: Separating Fiction From Fact

Health experts say more research needed into the devices' safety and effectiveness as a quit-smoking tool


Wherever they're used, though, he said it's unlikely that anyone would get more than a miniscule amount of nicotine secondhand from an e-cigarette.

Can an e-cigarette help people quit smoking?

That, too, seems to be an unanswered question. Tindle said that "it's too early to tell definitively that e-cigarettes can help people quit."

A study published in The Lancet in September was the first moderately sized, randomized and controlled trial of the use of e-cigarettes to quit smoking, she said. It compared nicotine-containing e-cigarettes to nicotine patches and to e-cigarettes that simply contained flavorings. The researchers found essentially no differences in the quit rates for the products after six months of use.

"E-cigarettes didn't do worse than the patch, and there were no differences in the adverse events," she said. "I would be happy if it turned out to be a safe and effective alternative for quitting, but we need a few more large trials for safety and efficacy."

Strauss noted that "although we can't say with certainty that e-cigarettes are an effective way to quit, people are using them" for that purpose. "Some people have told me that e-cigarettes are like a godsend," he said.

Former smoker Elizabeth Phillips would agree. She's been smoke-free since July 2012 with the help of e-cigarettes, which she used for about eight months after giving up tobacco cigarettes.

"E-cigarettes allowed me to gradually quit smoking without completely removing myself from the physical actions and social experience associated with smoking," Phillips said. "I consider my e-cigarette experience as a baby step that changed my life."

Are e-cigarettes approved or regulated by the government?

E-cigarettes are not currently regulated in a specific way by the FDA. The agency would like to change this, however, and last April filed a request for the authority to regulate e-cigarettes as a tobacco product.

The attorneys general of 40 states agree that electronic cigarettes should be regulated and sent a letter to the FDA in September requesting oversight of the products. They contend that e-cigarettes are being marketed to children; some brands have fruit and candy flavors or are advertising with cartoon characters. And, they note that the health effects of e-cigarettes have not been well-studied, especially in children.

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