Medical Minute 4-26: E-Cigarettes: Smoke and Mirrors?

By: Ramin Khalili Email
By: Ramin Khalili Email

Hollywood got Freda Souligny smoking at just 13. Now, 81, she had a pack-a-day habit for 61 years. She stopped when emphysema led her to electric cigarettes two months ago.

"This made the transition … I didn't feel this horrible withdrawal," she said.

Battery-operated, they deliver nicotine vapor through an adjustable cartridge and cost about 60 bucks to start.

Freda kicked her habit by slowly cutting the nicotine dose over several weeks, but Professor Tom Eissenberg says e-cigs are misleading.

"We wanted to know if they really delivered nicotine - one of the things they're supposed to do - if they really produce some of the same effects as a tobacco cigarette," said Tom Eissenberg, Ph.D., Virginia Commonwealth University.

A pair of studies found that while real cigarettes deliver nicotine, e-cigs do not - despite claiming to do so.

"Neither of them delivered nicotine, which was surprising, because that is - in fact - exactly what they are supposed to do," said Eissenberg.

He says smoking an e-cig is just like puffing on an un-lit cigarette - no nicotine, no tobacco - nothing, but Freda doesn't agree.

"It wasn't medication - 'cause I didn't take medication."

The studies do say that e-cigs can cut the urge to smoke by nearly half, so Freda's mind may be tricking her body - but she doesn't care.

"To me … it's just been miraculous."

Miraculous or smoke-and-mirrors? It really doesn't matter as long as you quit.

For more information on other series produced by Ivanhoe Broadcast News contact John Cherry at (407) 691-1500, jcherry@ivanhoe.com.

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BACKGROUND: An e-cigarette is a battery-powered device that resembles, and is shaped like a traditional cigarette. It doesn't have tobacco leaves. Instead it contains a battery-operated heating tool that turns a refillable, liquid chemical into a vapor mist. That mist is inhaled into the lungs, just like regular cigarette. Depending on the brand and flavor purchased, the liquid may or may not contain nicotine and trace amounts of tobacco. Since the vapor is inhaled directly into the lungs, very little second-hand vapor is created. According to the popular daily newspaper USA Today, more than one million Americans admit they have used e-cigarettes to quit smoking.

WHAT IT IS: Manufacturers promote electronic cigarettes as a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes. Marketers claim that most of the harmful material produced by the combustion of tobacco in traditional cigarettes is not present in e-cigarettes. However, the health effects of using electronic cigarettes are currently unknown. (SOURCE: health.yahoo.net)

WHAT ITS NOT: Experts say electronic cigarettes are not a nicotine replacement therapy or a quitting method. There is currently no evidence that they are beneficial to those who want to break the addiction. In addition, some academics are calling for the United States government to regulate the electric cigarette industry. Their concern: if electric cigarettes do not perform as claimed … consumers have the right to know. (SOURCE: health.yahoo.net)

THE CONTROVERSY: Electronic cigarettes became widely available in the U.S. in 2006. Since then, they've remained a hot topic of national and legal debate. Several state lawmakers have considered a ban on the products. According to a CBS News report, the FDA lost a court case in 2010, after trying to treat e-cigarettes as drug-delivery devices, rather than tobacco products, because e-cigarettes heat nicotine extracted from tobacco.
Some critics argue the flavorings like apple pie, double chocolate and waffle are designed to attract kids. Remember, several years ago – the government stepped into this arena by outlawing the use of so-called “cartoon characters” (like Joe the Camel) because they allegedly appealed directly to kids. Also, since e-cigarettes also don’t fall under the definition of a cigarette according to some states' anti-smoking laws and don't produce second-hand smoke, some bars and restaurants allow patrons to use them inside their buildings.

For More Information, Contact:
Elaine Keller
Virginia Commonwealth University
(703) 244-8692


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