Can e-cigarettes help you quit smoking?
E-cigarettes may seem like a safe alternative to regular cigarettes. But e-cigarettes are not harmless and won't help you manage your nicotine addiction. If you are trying to quit smoking, choose methods that have been proven to work.
You’ve made the decision to quit smoking. Can e-cigarettes help you quit?
Brands like JUUL have become popular in part because they claim to offer people who smoke a less harmful alternative to cigarettes.
And regular cigarettes are deadly. They get nicotine into your system by burning tobacco leaves. As a result, smokers take more than 7,000 toxic chemicals, as well as lung-choking tar, into their bodies. Those chemicals damage almost every organ and system in your body and cause about 14 different cancers.
E-cigarettes, on the other hand, deliver nicotine extracted from tobacco leaves without burning the leaves. Users inhale an aerosol that contains nicotine as well as other chemicals associated with the vaporizing of the e-liquid.
There is no debate that quitting regular cigarettes is one of the best things you can do for your health. Here are some things to consider before you launch a plan to use e-cigarettes to quit.
E-cigarettes to quit smoking
E-cigarettes may be less harmful than regular cigarettes but they are not harmless. Because they are new, unstandardized and vary widely by manufacturer, we simply do not know what their long-term health effects will be. It took decades of research to prove the deadly consequences of cigarettes, a product that was once endorsed by physicians. We are just beginning this process with e-cigarettes.
What we do know is that even though e-cigarettes don’t burn tobacco and don’t put smoke into your body, they may still contain toxic chemicals. The contents of e-cigarettes are unregulated, so we don’t know exactly what chemicals are in every brand or flavor and the effects of inhaling those chemicals over time has not been tested.
Some reports state that e-cigarettes are less harmful than cigarettes. But the fact is, switching from cigarettes to e-cigarettes is not the best option for your health. It is best to quit all forms of tobacco. There are other proven, safe and approved ways to do it.
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You may end up smoking both e-cigarettes and cigarettes, and that’s worse than just smoking cigarettes. There is no clear evidence that people who switch to e-cigarettes stay switched. Instead of transitioning from cigarettes to e-cigarettes, some smokers end up using both.
“People who vape and smoke have worse coughing and shortness of breath than people who only smoke,” says Maher Karam-Hage, M.D., medical director of the Tobacco Treatment Program at MD Anderson Cancer Center.
This is likely due to the added throat and airway irritation caused by e-cigarettes. The toxins in cigarettes become more harmful because your throat and airway is more irritated and inflamed.
You’re still dependent on nicotine. Switching to e-cigarettes is not a quit-smoking plan. Even if you transition completely to e-cigarettes, you’re still dependent on nicotine (a tobacco product), and putting harmful chemicals into your body. What’s worse, if you use both during your transition, you will multiply the health problems caused by each product.
Research-based smoking cessation methods help you wean yourself off nicotine over time and manage your cravings for cigarettes. Switching to e-cigarettes keeps your nicotine addiction going strong, with no exit plan.
What’s the best way to quit smoking?
What’s the best way to quit smoking? Let’s look at some numbers.
Quitting cold turkey has a low success rate. Studies show that only 5-7% of smokers who try to quit by stopping cold turkey are successful.
E-cigarettes have an uncertain success rate. Research on the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as a tool to help quit smoking is limited. In one 2019 study of 886 smokers, people who used e-cigarettes were twice as likely to stop regular cigarettes than people who used medicinal nicotine replacements such as patches, gum, lozenges and other nicotine replacement tools.
But use of e-cigarettes at the end of the trial was high. People who quit using patches, gums and the other alternatives were more likely to have quit nicotine completely. They no longer needed their patches. People who used e-cigarettes to help them stop smoking were now faced with a new challenge: how to quit e-cigarettes. Few other studies are available and more research is needed before we can say for sure how helpful e-cigarettes are for people who want to quit smoking.
If you want to quit smoking, try treatment that includes medication, patches, lozenges and gum first
Smoking cessation programs are safe and proven to work. The best way to quit is with a comprehensive approach that includes medications or medicinal nicotine replacements and psychological support.
For example, MD Anderson’s Tobacco Treatment Program combines medication and counseling. Within eight weeks of joining the program, up to 45% of the participants quit smoking. Many who don’t quit completely cut down cigarette use dramatically. They have drastically reduced their health risks from smoking regular cigarettes without exposing themselves to the risks of using another tobacco product such as e-cigarettes.
"If you want to quit smoking, try treatment that includes medication, patches, lozenges and gum first, because they are safe and are proven to help smokers quit," says Karam-Hage.
In addition, programs that take that approach usually offer medication, counseling and are even better when they treat other issues that can make it harder to quit smoking, like depression, anxiety and insomnia.
Don’t have the time or money to get professional help? You have options. Contact or visit one of these free government quit lines or website:
- Call 800-784-8669 (800-QUIT NOW)
- Text Quit to 47848
- Visit www.smokefree.gov
If you are in the Houston area and are interested in participating in a clinical study to quit smoking you can call 713-792-2265 to see if you are eligible.
Any program to help you quit smoking should include a plan to help you deal with your nicotine addiction and reduce nicotine cravings over time. Getting cigarettes out of your life is a great goal. Dealing with nicotine addiction is the ultimate goal.