Can E-cigarettes Help Me Quit Smoking?

Are you wondering whether electronic cigarettes can help you quit smoking? In my opinion, no, they can’t. In fact, in my opinion, not only will they not help you quit smoking, they’ll actually make it harder for you to quit and more likely that you’ll relapse, plus, they pose significant health risks of their own.

Why Do I Say That?

First of all, smoking has a very strong “habitual” component: we’re so used to picking up a cigarette, putting it in our mouths, lighting up, and sucking on it that we rarely if ever think about taking any of those specific actions. Think about it: how many times have you lit a cigarette only to find that you had an unfinished one still burning in an ashtray?

Electronic smoking products (there are others besides e-cigarettes) are designed to mimic smoking behaviors as closely as possible, so that there’s a seamless transference of behavior from smoking cigarettes to using the electronic smoking device. This will only reinforce the smoking habit, not break it (as some manufacturers of these devices ludicrously claim).

You’re Still Feeding Your Addiction

Secondly, all of the e-smoking devices that I’m aware of contain nicotine. At their most basic level, then, they’re the same thing as a cigarette: a nicotine delivery device (remember when I told you about how the tobacco industry was calling cigarettes “nicotine delivery devices” as far back as 1963? Where do you suppose the manufacturers of these electronic cigarettes get the tobacco they need to extract the nicotine that their products deliver?)

If you accept the idea that you only smoke to feed your addiction to nicotine, then you already know why e-cigarettes will not help you quit. Using nicotine in any form, whether it’s delivered through a cigarette, a patch, or an electronic smoking device, is feeding your addiction to nicotine, period. And that will not help you eliminate the root cause of your smoking.

But At Least It’s Not Smoking, Right?

I know, there’s the “at least it’s not smoking” argument, but I’m calling bullshit on that right now: if a friend of yours was an alcoholic who “quit drinking”, but was hooked up to an intravenous alcohol drip all day, would you say, “Well, at least she’s not drinking any more?” Of course not; you’d recognize that she was still feeding her addiction to alcohol, regardless of how she was now getting her fix.

Here’s the thing: if you buy into the “at least it’s not smoking” argument, and you start getting your nicotine fix through an e-cigarette, what happens when the government decides to outlaw them? (And don’t be surprised if they do; the tobacco industry “contributed” over $4 million to political candidates — on both sides of the aisle — in the 2008 election cycle alone, and if these things hurt conventional cigarette sales too much…).

However it might play out, what happens if e-cigarettes are no longer available for whatever reason? Well, since you’ve spent the intervening time reinforcing both the habitual and addiction components of smoking, what would be your guess? My guess is that you’ll go right back to smoking conventional cigarettes.

But Aren’t They Safer?

Well, considering that e-cigarette vapor has been found to contain diethylene glycol (a colorless, odorless, liquid poison) and tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs — known carcinogens that are formed during the curing of tobacco), I’d say probably not.

But you don’t have to take my word for it: In 2009, Health Canada issued a statement “advising Canadians not to purchase or use electronic smoking products“. The advisory said, in part, that, “Although these electronic smoking products may be marketed as a safer alternative to conventional tobacco products and, in some cases, as an aid to quitting smoking, electronic smoking products may pose risks such as nicotine poisoning and addiction.” (emphasis mine)

So do yourself a favor: quit by choice, not by deluding yourself into thinking that this latest fad is the magic pill that you’ve been searching for all these years. Sorry to disappoint, but there are no unicorns, either.

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