Experts debate pros, cons of e-cigarettes
Smoke shops demand attention on New Brunswick’s Easton Avenue with their bright signs and colorful, ornately shaped smoking devices. Inside, customers can pick from an array of tobacco strains and electronic cigarettes.
Customers, particularly young customers, are enticed by e-cigarettes compared to conventional cigarettes, particularly when they discover they can choose flavored e-cigarettes like gummy bear, piña colada and creamy milk chocolate.
Perhaps to the mixed reactions of smoke shop owners everywhere, a recent study by researchers at Belgium’s University of Leuven found that electronic cigarettes significantly reduce tobacco cravings.
The study was conducted with 48 smokers who had no interest in quitting conventional cigarettes. Frank Baeyens, the leader of the study and a psychologist at the University of Leuven, asked the participants use e-cigarettes for eight months instead of conventional cigarettes.
According to the study, by the end of the eight-month study, 21 percent of the study’s participants had stopped smoking tobacco entirely.
An additional 23 percent cut the number of tobacco cigarettes they smoked per day by half, according to the same study.
But Dr. Michael Steinberg, director of Rutgers Tobacco Dependence Program, believes e-cigarettes aren’t the best alternative to reducing tobacco cravings.
“The problem is that although e-cigarettes could be less harmful, people need to know that less harmful is not the same as safe,” he said.
E-cigarettes are fairly new, and scientists do not know enough about the chemicals that are produced by smoking them. The long-term effects are still unknown, and scientists will learn more about them in future years.
Steinberg said e-cigarettes deliver nicotine, an active chemical found in tobacco smoke that causes addiction.
He admitted e-cigarettes are less harmful than conventional cigarettes, but the nicotine content can still keep e-cigarette users addicted.
“One of the concerns with e-cigarette use is that current smokers won’t completely stop using tobacco, but will instead use the e-cigarette as a way to get around clean indoor air laws and policies,” Steinberg said.
In New Jersey, e-cigarettes fall under the 2006 Clean Indoor Air Act, making it against the law to use an e-cigarette anywhere where you cannot smoke a conventional cigarette.
Donna Richardson, clinical coordinator at the Rutgers Tobacco Dependence Program, urges students to find a more effective way to help people quit smoking. Although e-cigarettes might work for a few people, it is not a cure for everyone.
“I do not see that electronic cigarettes, as they are currently configured, are helping people to quit,” Richardson said. “I do not see that electronic cigarettes in their current form are making a difference with our treatment population.”
Richardson said that almost all people who come to see her for help have tried e-cigarettes and are still smoking.
She does not encourage e-cigarettes since not enough research has been conducted on the potentially harmful effects. Instead, she highly recommends a few Food and Drug Administration-approved medications.
“Best success in quitting comes from use of one or more of seven FDA-approved medications: [the] nicotine patch, nicotine gum, nicotine lozenges, nicotine inhaler, nicotine nasal spray, Chantix [and] Bupropion,” Richardson said.
Another concern Steinberg thinks should be addressed is if non-smokers will start experimenting with e-cigarettes.
“Besides the unknown harms of e-cigarette vapor, could these products be a gateway to tobacco use through their addictive nicotine content?” Steinberg said. “Certainly, there is appeal to these products, even among non-smokers.”
Carmela De Vera, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, does not feel that e-cigarettes carry any appeal whatsoever.
“Cigarettes in general are disgusting,” De Vera said.
She said she is “100 percent sure” that she will never think of trying conventional cigarettes or e-cigarettes because she doesn’t want to do anything that can harm her body and make her addicted.
“Tobacco use drains people of money, time, health [and] stamina,” Richardson said. People deserve evidence-based treatment, not gimmicks.”