Do e-cigarettes really help quit smoking?

By | October 18, 2013

The WHO has slammed e-cigarettes, marketed as a healthier alternative and an effective butt kicker. Two smokers share their honest experience.

For years, electronic or e-cigarettes, have been smartly marketed as a ‘healthier alternative,’ topped with a grand promise to wean smokers off the cancer stick. The World Health Organisation though, doesn’t buy it. Earlier this month, WHO officials pointed out that there was no evidence to prove that e-cigarettes help a smoker quit. It warned that the “pure nicotine” present in e-cigarettes could “constrict blood vessels”, triggering heart attacks, strokes and hypertension. The health body also called for regulating its sale, citing the disturbing trend of non-smokers trying e-cigarettes and then moving to regular ones.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that vaporise a nicotine-laced liquid solution into an aerosol mist, stimulating the act of smoking a cigarette. Leonardo Di Caprio, a staunch advocate, has said that it “feels like the real thing but it ain’t.” But to truly understand a smoker’s encounter with ‘vaping’ (since the liquid nicotine turns into a vapour, it is called vaping, not smoking) we turn to two working, chain-smoking professionals from the city (both names changed on request).

‘It helped, but because I made up my mind’

Kainaz, a 26-year-old former television producer began smoking at 18. She would smoke three a day in college. “But my smoking drastically shot up when I began working at a production house. Soon I was smoking twice or thrice as much. For the last three years, I have been averaging around 18 cigarettes a day. I have tried quitting using all sorts of nicotine replacement products, but to no avail. I then deconstructed my smoking pattern in my head.

“I realised that I smoked to break the monotony. So if I was sitting on my workstation, I felt like I should smoke to break away from that setting. I figured it was the act of stepping out and blowing smoke, which appealed to me. I took to e-cigarettes because they replicate the act of smoking, without causing lung cancer.

“Earlier this year, on March 28, I quit smoking and took to e-cigarettes. Each e-cigarette cartridge would last around 500 pulls, and initially, I would take multiple rounds of it. But then I began consciously cutting down. I stopped charging the device and it didn’t affect me. Now, I use e-cigarette once in two-three days. I am in control of my habit. But honestly, I could quit only because I made up my mind. Had I not been resolute, this e-cigarette too, would have been as rubbish as the other tricks I tried.”

‘It didn’t work once the novelty wore off’

For five years after she graduated, 30-year-old media professional Karishma, would puff a pack of 12 a day. “I quit for two years, but resumed smoking occasionally. Last August, my friend introduced me to e-cigarettes. They felt smooth and reminded me of hookahs. Most heavy smokers don’t like e-cigarettes because it doesn’t ‘hit’.

“I liked trying different flavours like strawberry or green apple. If you want to quit smoking via e-cigarettes, then you must consciously and progressive reduce the quantity of tobacco in your device over days. I then got hooked on to e-sheesha and would source them from London. Somehow, e-cigarettes didn’t cut it for me once its novelty element wore off. It’s been a month since I have returned to smoking. I don’t believe e-cigarettes can help you quit smoking, though many of my friends have taken to it and have majorly cut down on their daily smokes. Whether they quit altogether, is another matter.”

Expert speak

On being told of these two accounts, Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, professor and surgeon at Parel’s Tata Memorial Hospital, confirms WHO’s fears. “E-cigarette is a terrible alternative. Only under strict monitoring, can any nicotine replacement therapy work.” But with the smoker calling the shots on how much he should ‘vape’, e-cigarettes defeat the purpose of quitting, says Dr Chaturvedi. “They can be used for a few days to tackle the withdrawal. But it’s like antibiotics; you can’t take them for months.”

Only two per cent of Indians are able to quit smoking, Dr Chaturvedi says. Like Karishma, smokers relapse. “When you give an e-cigarette to a smoker, you’re not allowing him to quit smoking. You are only making him switch his source of nicotine, which is a highly addictive drug with proven disease-causing properties.”

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