With New Year's Day right around the corner, a lot of our clients are talking about losing weight, reducing stress, and addressing other health concerns as part of their New Year's Resolutions. We have a few clients who smoke, and we've been asked about using electronic cigarettes in order to quit smoking.
I will first admit that it wasn't a topic I was very familiar with, so I decided to do some research before I answered. And I was really surprised at what I found.
There ARE testimonials of people who have quit smoking, or greatly reduced their smoking habit, and who credit this to their use of electronic cigarettes. However, it seems that the idea has many opponents as well, and their voices are surprisingly strident. But rather than get into a long philosophical discussion about the FDA's standpoint, or that of various health and anti-cancer organizations, I'll just get to the essence of what I learned.
I've been curious about the devices since I first saw them advertised, and wondered about their implications for health. Most electronic cigarettes use heat to vaporize a solution of nicotine, flavorings, and propylene glycol or glycerine into a water vapor which is then inhaled. The vapor delivers the nicotine to the user, along with the flavor.
Almost all of the substances believed to cause cancer from burning traditional tobacco cigarettes are not present, and the others are present in comparatively minute amounts. For the smoker's gratification, nicotine is still delivered, and the action of smoking (involving the hands, mouth) is still satisfied. For these reasons, many argue that electronic cigarettes are a safer alternative.
However, the substances that are inhaled have not been extensively tested, and vary from brand to brand. Most of our clients will recognize propylene glycol to be of special concern. We try to offer products free of propylene glycol even for topical use. The vapor from electronic cigarettes is meant to be taken into the body via the lungs, making it that much more dangerous than shampoo, for example.
I would also add the subject of exposure to second-hand smoke as a factor to consider. Most non-smokers would prefer not to be exposed to second-hand smoke on principle, and there are many of us who are concerned about the health risks associated with exposure.
Whether or not the devices are actually helpful in stopping smoking is not something I can comment on. Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest they may be helpful. Legally they cannot be sold or promoted for this purpose in the US, since they have not been tested as such.
Even so, if a client comes to me and has tried other methods and yet failed, and asks me if they should try electronic cigarettes, what would I tell them? In conscience, I could not tell them NOT to try it, since it might indeed help. If the client can successfully quit smoking, their health would benefit so much that it would be unethical for me to advise them against trying it at all.
One of the major issues I see with these products that does concern me is the potential to entice non-smokers to try it, if they get the idea that it is relatively safe. Nicotine is still a drug, and a very addictive one. Also the flavors available might be something that make it more appealing to younger people, which pretty much takes us back to the now-banned commercials of rugged cowboys and sensual models designed to romanticize smoking in the first place.
For now I am holding a neutral position on the devices. There may be situations where they may be helpful, and there may be other situations where they may be harmful. I think it is important to weigh potential risks and benefits, and make decisions on a case by case basis.
Incidentally, our preferred method of quitting smoking is to take a high-strength liquid lobelia extract, which tends to make smoking unappealing and benefits the lungs, and marshmallow herb capsules which also help to expel build-up from smoking from the lungs. These must be paired with a desire to quit smoking. For motivated clients, this combination has been proven very effective.
Written by Trish A.