E-Cigarettes ... Are They the Right Choice for Kicking the Habit?

While way too many diagnoses of lung cancer are being made among non-smokers, many of those diagnosed with the disease are current smokers. Hearing the words, “You have lung cancer,” is enough to make some of those smokers think hard about their relationship with cigarettes.

Overcoming addiction is hard

As a former smoker myself, I can tell you that one of the hardest things I ever did in my life was overcome my addiction to cigarettes. I “practiced quitting” any number of times before I was finally successful. And, even though I am as happy as I can be to have that monkey off of my back, there are still times, more than 10 years later, when a part of me would love to have just one more cigarette.

E-cigarette use is up

Perhaps there is no better testament to the addictive nature of cigarettes than the results of a recent US National Health Interview Survey. Of the 13,274 participants who reported a cancer diagnosis, in 2017, 51.9% (up from 50.7% in 2014) reported that they still smoke.1

At the same time as smoking rates are going up among those diagnosed with cancer, so is the use of e-cigarettes. In 2014, 8.5% reported using e-cigarettes. That percentage rose to 10.7% in 2017, especially among those younger than 50 years and former smokers.1

I’m not a doctor, but I must conclude that those who are jumping on the e-cigarette train believe they are safer than cigarettes. However, not all doctors agree.

How safe are e-cigarettes?

Nina Sanford, a doctor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, recently wrote the following to JAMA Oncology, “Among the general population, experts worry that e-cigarettes may be creating an addiction to nicotine among younger individuals who are at risk of prolonged exposure.” Furthermore, she wrote, “Our findings prompt similar concerns regarding potential deleterious long-term consequences on oncologic outcomes and survivorship, including the potential for increased cancer risk, for which further investigation is needed.”1

A less harmful alternative

At the same time, Cancer Research UK published an article in December 2018 that says,

  • To date, research shows that e-cigarettes are far less harmful than smoking.
  • E-cigarettes do not contain tobacco which causes the damage from smoking. They usually contain nicotine, which is addictive, but doesn’t cause cancer.
  • For some, e-cigarettes could be an option to help kick the cigarette habit.2

According to the UK site, studies show that smokers who switch to e-cigarettes have much lower levels of harmful chemicals in their bodies than those who continue to smoke cigarettes. In fact, they say that exposure to harmful chemicals is about the same as found in people using nicotine replacement therapy, such as patches or nicotine gum.2

Talk to your doctor

If you don’t smoke cigarettes, no one suggests that you start vaping. But Cancer Research UK says the following about using e-cigarettes as a way to stop smoking:

They can give cigarette smokers the nicotine hit they need to help beat their cravings, without the same damaging cocktail of chemicals found in tobacco smoke. Some might find that e-cigarettes can replicate some of the physical aspects of cigarette smoking, like holding a cigarette and inhaling.2

If you want to kick the cigarette habit, ask your doctor what he or she recommends. Keep in mind, too, that vaping isn’t the only option out there. Medications like Chantix and Wellbutrin, nicotine patches, or gum also might help you kick the habit.

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