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E-cigarettes underutilized for smoking cessation

Reporter was commissioned to write this in-depth article.

E-cigarettes Some experts say that e-cigarettes have the potential to help people quit smoking.
CREDIT: Thinkstock

If you identify yourself as a smoker, chances are you don’t want to.

In fact, roughly 68 percent of adult smokers say they want to quit, according to the CDC. So why don’t they? Anyone who’s struggled with the habit can tell you – quitting is no easy task. It’s no wonder the American Cancer Society reports that only 4 to 7 percent of people are able to successfully quit the habit without medication or other help. But even so, the current smoking cessation products that are out there leave much to be desired.

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Enter the e-cigarette. These battery-operated devices generate inhalable vapor, some of which contain nicotine. According to Noah Minskoff, M.D., a doctor who works in the biotechnology and healthcare fields, they could change the smoking cessation game – if the current models were up to par, that is.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about gum, patches, inhalers, sprays, lozenges, whatever,” said Minskoff. “E-cigarettes have the potential to be vastly more effective.”

According to Minskoff, the current design of e-cigarettes is inherently flawed. When people smoke tobacco cigarettes, nicotine is delivered directly to the lungs and is quickly absorbed. This, in turn, produces the rapid nicotine reward the smoker is after. However, the vapor from e-cigarettes is primarily delivered to the mouth and throat, which Minskoff says doesn't trigger the same quick-acting effect.

As a result, many smokers jump from brand to brand of e-cigarettes, never really finding one they stick to. (According to a Wall Street Journal report, just 1 percent of nonsmokers try vaporizing products like e-cigarettes.)

“Their shape and their vapor output make them the most similar to a cigarette smoker, and that gives them a great head start out of the gate, but the technology for that nicotine delivery is behind in a major way in terms of matching the pulmonary delivery of nicotine and subsequent reward kinetics of a cigarette,” said Minskoff.

Since they’re inception, e-cigarettes have come under serious scrutiny because of potential health risks. But at this time, there simply isn’t a vast body of research to substantiate these claims. (The World Health Organization reports that their safety has not been scientifically demonstrated.) Even so, some experts claim that 90 percent of smoking-related health problems would be eliminated if every smoker switched from regular cigarettes to electronic ones.

Despite having some room for improvement, smoking cessation aids do help people quit. Research shows that when compared to smokers who go cold turkey, those who use cessation products are more likely to kick the habit. According to the American Cancer Society, counseling can also significantly up the chances of quitting. In fact, smokers who use telephone counseling are two times as likely to successfully quit.

Noah Minskoff, M.D. owns a number of patents connected to e-cigarette technology. He’s also the co-founder of several e-cigarette-based startup companies.

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