To start, each and every person is unique, and it should come as no surprise that how each individual copes with a psychology as complex as addiction is unique as well. In recent years, e-cigarettes have become an increasingly popular and easily-accessible “therapy” for smoking cessation. Any and all success stories should be celebrated, because as any successful quitter can tell you: Life after quitting is a lot better. However, people considering e-cigs as an option for quitting should be aware of the product’s dubious “therapeutic utility.” The FDA recently took it’s stance on the previously unregulated e-cigarette industry, and has "...extended the agency’s tobacco authority to cover additional products that meet the legal definition of a tobacco product, such as e-cigarettes." One of many plausible explanations for this is the tobacco industry’s massive investment in the manufacture and sale of e-cigarette hardware and "juice.” - This is an industry with no incentive other than to increase the number of people using e-cigarettes; and keep existing users using.
Also part of the FDA’s statement was a short list of concerns that consumers should do their best to keep in-mind. In my opinion, the brevity and non-specific nature of this list is a telling example of how little we actually know about the implications of long-term use.
"E-cigarettes have not been fully studied, so consumers currently don’t know:
1. The potential risks of e-cigarettes when used as intended,
2. How much nicotine or other potentially harmful chemicals are being inhaled during use, or
3. Whether there are any benefits associated with using these products."
Additionally, there is a whole other list of questions and concerns that should be raised as part of the inquiry into this industry. The FDA also realizes that “it is not known whether e-cigarettes may lead young people to try other tobacco products, including conventional cigarettes.” … If the tobacco industry’s history of adding candy-like flavoring to tobacco is any indication, I think we can be pretty sure what to expect here. For me, so many unknowns and prior knowledge of tobacco industry motives make it an impossibility to view e-cigarettes as any kind of relevant therapeutic tool to quit smoking. Again, I understand there have been people freed from cigarette addiction by e-cigarettes, and know some of these people personally… But how many people who tried that same tactic ended up solidifying their addiction to tobacco because of e-cigarettes higher nicotine concentrations? Considering the lack of studies, how many unforeseen health consequences will there be from chronically inhaling vapors with an ambiguous ingredient list? From a societal standpoint, how many youth will become nicotine dependent because of appealing flavors and aesthetics designed to cater to them?
Knowledge of previous tobacco industry tactics, in conjunction with the numerous unanswered questions, is more than enough to raise yellow flags about e-cigarettes. Moreover, while I have the utmost respect for the power of word-of-mouth, I will stand with the FDA. Call me a cynic, but I will wait for further evidence before giving any credence towards e-cigs as a legitimate treatment option for tobacco-dependence; I would advise anyone else to do the same.
-Owen Parker - MPH, Co-Founder