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E-smoking: Cure or gateway?

Published: Friday, May 2, 2014 4:31 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, May 2, 2014 4:36 p.m. CDT

New studies indicate electronic cigarettes might be slightly more effective than nicotine patches in helping people quit smoking, which is good news.

However, the bad news is another new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests more children and teens are trying them.

Either way, electronic cigarettes have been getting a lot of attention lately. While e-cigarettes may be helping some smokers quit, they also may be acting as a “gateway drug” for smoking which was not intended by the inventor.

The e-cigarette was developed in China by Pharmacist Hon Lik. Lik was a three-pack-a-day smoker whose father died of lung cancer. Lik decided he had to come up with an alternative that wouldn’t kill him.

Some scientists believe nicotine itself is not what causes cancer for smokers, but rather the toxic chemicals which are created when tobacco and filler products burn that are dangerous.

So Lik developed an e-cigarette. It is a device which uses a small battery to atomize a pure liquid solution of nicotine and a little flavoring added for taste. The person using it inhales a kind of vapor which looks like fog from a fog machine.

A recent review of all the scientific research done on e-cigarettes by Drexel University professor Igor Burstyn concluded electronic cigarettes are relatively harmless.

Smoking is still the leading cause of avoidable death in the United States. E-cigarettes are not FDA-approved to help people quit, but many people are using them this way. Critics note e-cigarettes come in not-so-adult flavors such as gummy bear, atomic fireball candy and cookies and cream. They worry e-cigarettes will become a gateway to encourage kids to develop a lifelong nicotine addiction.

“While e-cigarettes can be a valuable tool for smoking cessation, the use of e-cigarettes containing nicotine as a safe alternative to cigarettes has not been established,” Illinois Valley Community Hospital certified respiration therapist Connie Tunget said. “Nicotine is a highly addictive substance that should be regulated as a tobacco-based product.  The marketing of this product to the youth population, in my opinion, should be dealt with in the same way as other tobacco products.”

Thirty-three states — including Illinois — specifically forbid the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.

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