Everyone who has tried to stop smoking knows that it’s not an easy task. For some people, it’s just about impossible. And so a market has developed for devices, medications or programs that help people over the hump of quitting.
But in some cases, the “cure” may be as bad or worse than the “disease.” Last year, the Food and Drug Administration added a Black Box Warning to the smoking cessation drugs Chantix (varenicline) and Zyban (buproprion). Thewarning headlined the serious mental effects that can occur as a result of taking these drugs, including depression, hostility and suicidal thoughts.
Now there’s a whole new device to help people quit smoking but it comes with new dangers.
The Electronic Cigarette is supposed to help people quit smoking by allowing them to put a battery-operated device in their mouths that looks, feels and even tastes like a normal cigarette. By drawing on the Electronic Cigarette, a person can receive a vaporous dose of nicotine from a reservoir of nicotine inside the device. Consumers can choose the level of nicotine that is delivered through the purchase of different refill cartridges for the Electronic Cigarette, tapering off on their nicotine consumption until they buy cartridges with no nicotine at all.
These products are sold under a variety of brand names and are manufactured in China.
The problem with this product is the substance used to deliver the vaporous dose of nicotine: propylene glycol. Propylene glycol is used in small doses in some foods and cosmetics and it is the chemical you might see being sprayed on your airplane that is trying to take off in icy winter weather. But, according to Wikipedia, the inhalation of propylene glycol is irritating to the lungs and the eyes, and its use in situations where it can be inhaled are discouraged.
The Material Safety Data Sheet for this chemical also states that chronic exposure can lead to “reproductive and fetal effects. Laboratory experiments have resulted in mutagenic [causing mutation] effects. Exposure to large doses may cause central nervous system depression.” Chronic ingestion may also cause seizures.
Just in case that is not enough, the FDA has stated that the nicotine in Electronic Cigarettes makes them drug delivery devices and that they are not approved for use in the U.S. As a result, shipments of Electronic Cigarettes have been sent back to their origins by the FDA.
It’s probably true that the safest way to protect yourself from the harmful effects to your health by smoking is to deal with the difficulty of quitting without relying on an aid that may be more dangerous than the smoking itself.
Source: Experimental exposure to propylene glycol mist in aviation emergency training: acute ocular and respiratory effects, 2001,
Source: FDA Warns of Health Risks Posed by E-Cigarettes, July 23, 2009, http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm173401.htm, January 18, 2010,
Source: Propylene Glycol, 18 January 2009, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propylene_glycol
Source: Propylene Glycol Material Safety Data Sheet, August 2, 2000, www.sefsc.noaa.gov/HTMLdocs/PropyleneGlycol.htm