e-cigarettes have become quite prevalent, with stores selling the devices in practically every city across the country. While manufacturers have contended that the devices are safer than regular cigarettes, the truth is that not much is known about e-cigarettes. New research suggests that e-cigarettes may be less addictive than regular cigarettes for former smokers, a finding which could help researchers better understand how various nicotine delivery devices lead to dependence.
"We found that e-cigarettes appear to be less addictive than tobacco cigarettes in a large sample of long-term users," said Jonathan Foulds, Ph.D., professor of public health sciences and psychiatry, Penn State College of Medicine.
Researchers at Penn State developed an online survey, with questions formulated to assess previous dependence on cigarettes and to assess current dependence on e-cigarettes. More than 3,500 participants who were current users of e-cigarettes and were ex-cigarette smokers completed the Penn State Cigarette Dependence Index and the Penn State Electronic Cigarette Dependence Index. Consumers who had used e-cigarettes longer appeared to be more addicted.
"However, people with all the characteristics of a more dependent e-cig user (e.g. longer use of an advanced e-cig with a high nicotine concentration in the liquid) in our study still had a lower e-cig dependence score than their cigarette dependence score," Foulds said. "We think this is because they're getting less nicotine from the e-cigs than they were getting from cigarettes."
While many e-cigarettes users are trying to quit smoking, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved the devices as a smoking cessation product.
"This is a new class of products that's not yet regulated," Foulds said. "It has the potential to do good and help a lot of people quit, but it also has the potential to do harm. Continuing to smoke and use e-cigarettes may not reduce health risks. Kids who have never smoked might begin nicotine addiction with e-cigs. There's a need for a better understanding of these products."
There are more than 400 brands of e-cigarettes currently available, which work by users inhaling vapor containing nicotine, propylene glycol, glycerin and flavorings. While the long-term effects on health and nicotine dependence are unknown, the researchers found e-cigarettes contained far fewer cancer-causing and other toxic substances than regular cigarettes.
Based on materials from Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center