Some electronic cigarettes allow users to adjust the amount of nicotine they’re getting, and even adjust it down to zero over time, and it seems plausible that a device that lets people reduce the amount of nicotine they’re consuming could help them cut their dependence, Prokhorov says. However, right now there aren’t good studies to show that they outperform existing nicotine cessation products, nor are they FDA-approved for this purpose.
Lauren Odum, a pharmacist at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, recently published a review of the scientific literature on using e-cigarettes to quit smoking. “We came up with a lot of anecdotal evidence from patients saying that these are very helpful, but it’s mostly surveys and the data is skewed, because people who have a positive experience are more likely to report back,” she says. “The ones who weren’t able to quit smoking were probably less likely to respond these surveys.”
E-cigarettes growing in popularity among teens
Odum works at a smoking cessation clinic and says that patients have told her that e-cigarettes helped them quit or cut back on regular cigarettes. “One of the reasons that people like them is that they don’t have to stop the smoking habit,” she says. “They still get the hand-to-mouth motion and they still get the nicotine, which is the addictive component.”
Nick Capodice never wanted to stop smoking: “I really loved smoking. I loved the act of it, the taste of it — everything” says the Brooklynite. He had no intention of quitting. But after his father was diagnosed with cancer, Capodice spent three “miserable” months attempting to give up cigarettes, before giving up. He didn’t try vaping in hopes of quitting smoking altogether, but after a few e-cigarettes, he lost his urge for tobacco. He hasn’t smoked in more than 16 months and has tapered down the amount of nicotine he’s using in his e-cigarettes to zero.
But not everyone who uses e-cigarettes stops smoking — NJoy’s Weiss says that most of his company’s customers also use tobacco cigarettes — and some public health researchers worry that vaping may actually prevent some people from kicking their nicotine habit if it allows them to get their fix in circumstances where they can’t smoke. Another concern is that e-cigarettes might be a gateway to traditional cigarettes for kids, getting them hooked on nicotine, Prokhorov says. (A report last week by the Centers for Disease and Control found that use of e-cigarettes among middle and high schoolers doubled between 2011 and 2012, with about 1.78 million students having tried them, among whom 160,000 had never used conventional cigarettes.) Finally, people who would never smoke a regular cigarette might take up the habit if they think that electronic cigarettes are safe, says Odum.
But Richard Carmona, who crusaded against tobacco during his term as U.S. surgeon general from 2002 to 2006, views e-cigarettes as a potential tool for improving public health. About 20 percent of Americans smoke, and the number of smokers has hit a plateau, Carmona says. “We still need to do more research,” he says, but “this is the first thing I’ve seen in years that has promise for decreasing tobacco use in our country.” Carmona, who recently joined the NJoy board (it’s a paid position), says that the company is committed to conducting and publishing the research necessary to answer the important scientific questions that remain about e-cigarettes.