I Want to Quit Smoking: Can e-cigarettes Help Me Give Up Tobacco?

Should I try e-cigarettes to quit smoking? Dear Dr. Mahler: What are your thoughts about e-cigarettes? I want to quit smoking cigarettes and have tried the patch, gum, and Chantix without success. Do they work? Are they safe? I am 59 and have “moderately severe” COPD according to my doctor. She says electronic cigarettes do not have all of the chemicals that are in cigarettes. Cam from Kingston, Ontario, Canada Dear Cam: Your question is important and timely. Before I answer it, here is some brief information on electronic cigarettes.
There are numerous types for vaping e-cigarettes.

Various electronic cigarettes displayed in a store.

Electronic cigarettes contain no tobacco. The burning of tobacco produces smoke (combustion) which makes particles and gases that can cause cancer (carcinogens). Thousands of toxins have been identified in tobacco smoke.   With electronic cigarettes, the vapor contains only trace or no toxins and no carbon monoxide gas. The vapor usually includes flavorings and  a chemical called propylene glycol. Current evidence shows that e-cigarette vapor is much less toxic then cigarette smoke. Nicotine is the major chemical in e-cigarettes and is highly addictive as everyone knows. Experts state that the greatest potential but unproven benefit of e-cigarettes is to help people quit smoking cigarettes. So far, there are two studies that have examined the success of e-cigarettes in helping someone quit smoking. Overall, about 10% of individuals using e-cigarettes were able to quit tobacco smoking, which was similar to use of nicotine patch. Although many young people are experimenting with vaping e-cigarettes, most of these are already smoking regular cigarettes. Studies in animals show that the developing brain is vulnerable to the effects of cigarettes. Thus, preventing sales of electronic cigarettes to youth as proposed by the FDA is important.
Person vaping e-cigarette

A person vaping e-cigarette.

Finally, most experts suggest that e-cigarettes should meet safety standards and be regulated. Right now, there is no regulation as to what additives or how much nicotine is actually in electronic cigarettes. When someone in my practice asks the same question as you have, I provide a brief explanation, and then state that vaping electronic cigarettes appears to be safer then smoking cigarettes. Ideally, someone might use e-cigarettes as a way to quit smoking cigarettes, and then eventually quit vaping. Of course, you should discuss this with you health care provider. For more information, see Point and Counterpoint: Does the Risk of Electronic Cigarettes Exceed Potential Benefits? in the journal CHEST, September 2015. Best wishes on quitting, Donald A. Mahler, M.D.          

Donald A. Mahler, M.D. is Emeritus Professor of Medicine at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire. He works as a pulmonary physician at Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont, NH, where he is Director of Respiratory Services.