6 Myths and Facts About Quitting Smoking With E-Cigarettes

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Electronic Cigarette

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes, or e-cigs) are nicotine delivery devices. They include nicotine and other chemicals or flavorings, a battery, and a mouthpiece. When you puff on the mouthpiece, you trigger the battery. The battery heats the nicotine into a vapor that you inhale. Another name for it is vaping.

People smoke or chew tobacco to get the pleasurable effects of nicotine. Along with the nicotine, they get the harmful effects of toxic substances from tobacco. These substances cause cancer, heart disease, stroke and many other health hazards.

Because e-cigarettes offer nicotine without tobacco, people sometimes use e-cigarettes to help them quit smoking. There are pros and cons to this. There are also lots of myths about e-cigarettes compared with regular cigarettes. Here's the truth.

Myth No. 1: E-cigarettes are just as dangerous as smoking.

Nicotine in very high doses can be dangerous. However, the dose of nicotine in an e-cigarette is not that high. Nicotine from an e-cigarette is not as dangerous as the tar, chemicals and toxic substances produced by smoking tobacco in regular cigarettes. Based on what experts now know, they believe e-cigarettes have less chance of causing cancer or other diseases than smoking or chewing tobacco.

Myth No. 2: E-cigarettes are safe.

Until recently, e-cigarettes had not been studied or regulated. Recent studies have found that some e-cigarettes contain some cancer-causing chemicals. The nicotine in e-cigarettes can also cause nicotine addiction. Nicotine addiction can lead to regular cigarette smoking and possibly to other drug addictions. Until there is more research, you should not assume smoking an e-cigarette is safe.

Myth No. 3: E-cigarettes are a good way to stop smoking.

If you want to stop smoking, e-cigarettes may help relieve some nicotine withdrawal symptoms. This may include anxiety, depression and irritability. But there's no evidence yet that they help you quit. In fact, they may deliver enough nicotine to keep you addicted to nicotine. That may make it harder to quit. Quitting nicotine for good is within reach: nicotine withdrawal symptoms typically last only a few weeks or less.

Myth No. 4: E-cigarettes are the same as other smoking cessation treatments.

E-cigarettes are not an approved smoking cessation device. Other nicotine substitutes are approved, safe and effective. These include nicotine gums, patches, inhalers and nasal sprays. These treatments work well because they provide just enough nicotine to reduce cravings. There are also prescription medications that reduce nicotine cravings or block the effects of nicotine. Smoking cessation programs and behavior modification therapies are effective too.

Myth No. 5: E-cigarettes are safer for kids and may prevent them from becoming cigarette smokers.

E-cigarettes may be less toxic than smoking, but they are not safe for kids. They have some toxic substances and they get kids hooked on nicotine. Early studies suggest kids who smoke e-cigarettes are more likely to start smoking real cigarettes.

Myth No. 6: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate e-cigarettes, so there's no way to stop kids from getting them.

The FDA now does regulate e-cigarettes. The agency expanded its regulation of tobacco products to include e-cigarettes because the nicotine in them comes from tobacco. This means people younger than 18 can no longer buy e-cigarettes. Also, they will not be sold in vending machines.

The Bottom Line

The FDA's involvement will have other effects. The agency will start testing e-cigarettes for safety. It also can issue health warnings.

As e-cigarettes become more regulated and more studied, researchers will learn more about their safety and risks. They also may learn more about possible benefits. In time, some type of e-cigarette might be approved for smoking cessation under certain conditions.

For now, there are many better and safer ways to quit smoking. If you're struggling to quit, ask your doctor for help. And if you're thinking about starting to smoke e-cigarettes, think some more. You could become addicted to nicotine. In time, that could prompt you to switch to smoking real cigarettes. 

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 18
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. DrugFacts: Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products. National Institutes of Health. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/cigarettes-other-tobacco-products

  2. DrugFacts: Electronic Cigarettes (e-Cigarettes). National Institutes of Health. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/electronic-cigarettes-e-cigarettes

  3. The Facts on the FDA’s New Tobacco Rule. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm506676.htm