Are E-Cigarettes the Holy Grail for Hopelessly Addicted Smokers?
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Technology, not social stigma, smoking bans or $12-a-pack cigarettes, may finally doom Big Tobacco's market in dealing death to tens of millions. The looming threat to the industry's bottom line is the e-cigarette, a remarkable device that simulates smoking a real cigarette so effectively that life-long smokers can switch without experiencing any cravings or symptoms of withdrawl.
Smokers don't lose any of what those old 1950s ads called “smoking satisfaction,” but they do lose the carbon monoxide, tar and some 4,000 other nasty chemicals found in cigarettes. They also lose the foul odor that stinks up their clothing and their environment, the offensive yellow stains on their teeth, the little ashes that get everywhere and the sheer joy of standing outside in the cold rain getting dirty looks from passersby while they get their fix. Theoretically, one can “smoke” e-cigarettes on airplanes and in movie theaters and restaurants without disturbing others and without creating clouds of the secondhand smoke that can harm others.
Unsurprisingly, the tobacco lobby, along with Big Pharma, which is trying to guard its share of the multi-billion dollar market for nicotine patches and drug therapies to help people quit smoking, has mounted a bruising battle to keep this technology out of the hands of American smokers.
The e-cigarette was invented in China in 2004. It's a cigarette-shaped tube that contains a rechargeable battery, a mini-vaporizer, a small reservoir, sensors and, in most cases, a light on the tip. The sensor notes when you take a drag on the tube and turns on the vaporizer, which more-or-less instantaneously turns the substances in the reservoir into a stream of visible water vapor that mimics the taste and feel of tobacco smoke. The tip glows like the end of a lit cigarette with each drag. It's infused with the taste of tobacco – or tobacco combined with other flavors for those who are into that sort of thing – and nicotine, in various doses (including none at all). The refill cartridges – which look like the butt of the cigarette--give you about the same number of drags as a pack of cigarettes, but cost around $3 each – a bit more than half the national average and a third of what a pack of smokes go for in places like New York City.
Take the word of an addict who has quit dozens of times over more than 20 years – both “cold turkey” and also with the help of nicotine patches, lozenges and gum, one prescription drug specifically for quitting smoking and two antidepressants that are also widely prescribed for that purpose, and hypnotherapy – and has always gone back to cigarettes: the switch from smoking to “vaping” is effortless.
That's because it delivers the same amount of nicotine as patches, lozenges and gum, but in inhaled form, just like a cigarette. Forget about the habit – this smoker hasn't even wanted an ordinary cigarette since getting the e-cigs a few days after Christmas.
Nicotine replacement therapies (NRT) like the patch work by giving you a dose of nicotine – the addictive agent in tobacco – so you don't bite the heads off of your loved ones while getting over the psychological habit of smoking. In theory, e-cigarettes work the opposite way – maintaining the feel of smoking while you gradually reduce the level of nicotine you consume.
The American Association of Public Health Physicians (AAPHP) says it “favors a permissive approach to e-cigarettes because the possibility exists to save the lives of four million of the eight million current adult American smokers who will otherwise die of a tobacco-related illness over the next twenty years. ( PDF)”