UH study raises questions about e-cigarette safety & effectiveness

UH study raises questions about e-cigarette safety & effectiveness
Published: Jul. 22, 2013 at 9:57 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 22, 2013 at 10:50 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A new study by the University of Hawai'i Cancer Center finds young people who want to quit smoking are turning to e-cigarettes.  E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices, some of which turn nicotine into a vapor that is inhaled instead of smoke.

"This study is one of the first studies to show that people who are using e-cigarettes are quite serious about quitting smoking," said Dr. Thaddeus Herzog.

More than 1,500 smokers from different ethnic backgrounds were surveyed.  Researchers found 13% of them turned to electronic smoking devices to try to kick their habit.

"We found that people who had used other nicotine replacement therapy that had been approved by the FDA – they were two to four times more likely to have tried electronic cigarettes to quick smoking," said Dr. Pallav Pokhrel.

Researchers say the next study will examine how successful people who choose to use e-cigarettes are at quitting and how that compares to other options, like the nicotine patch or nicotine gum.

"People are using E-cigarettes to try to quit, that's why we really need to study them more to understand these safety issues better and also the effectiveness issues of trying to quit," said Herzog. "Because again, for better or worse, people are already using them and so we need to learn more about it."

"The FDA is in the process of developing regulations and we hope that our findings will help the FDA," added Pokhrel.

Electronic smoking devices first appeared around 2006, but very little is known about their potential health effects.

"There are persons who really want to quit smoking and they look at that as an alternative.  Unfortunately, the Food and Drug Administration has no regulation over them and has not proven that they are effective at all or are even safe to be used," said Lila Johnson, who works for the Department of Health with the Tobacco Prevention and Education Program.

The FDA has banned companies from advertising the devices as a way to stop smoking until it completes ongoing studies about their safety and effectiveness.

"The [e-cigarette] companies are being purchased by the tobacco industry, because they're seeing a decrease in the use of regular cigarettes. These are electronic, they're jazzy, they're exciting – and unfortunately, they are unregulated and we just do not know of the safety," explained Johnson.

After lighting up for ten years, Dustin Malama was ready to quit.

"I've tried many different methods.  I tried the patch.  I tried the gum.  I tried cold turkey.  I tried weaning myself off, and none of those really worked for me 'cause I always returned to going out and smoking a cigarette," explained Malama, a 33-year-old photographer who works at Hawaii News Now.

Malama says he turned to e-cigarettes when nothing else worked.

"The fact that I went from anywhere from a pack to two packs a day and going down to zero packs on the e-cigarettes – this was a miracle," described Malama.  "I think these e-cigarettes saved my life."

But once he kicked his smoking habit, he also booted his e-cigarette.

"There still could be something we don't know about that could be harming us in these e-cigarettes and that's generally why I decided to quit," explained Malama.  "Right now, there's no evidence, but how long did it take for people to realize cigarettes cause cancer?"

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