Don Stevens smoked 20 cigarettes a day for 18 years. Today, he smokes just one.
“I’ve been using e-cigarettes for five years— before most people even knew what they were— and then it just grew and became a passion of mine,” Stevens said, who is co-owner of Premium E-Cigs & Vapor Shop on West Genesee Street.
Stevens is part of a controversial trend toward electronic cigarettes as replacements to the traditional tobacco cigarette. Also known as ENDS, or electronic nicotine delivery systems, electronic cigarettes use a battery-powered heating device to vaporize a liquid solution and simulate the act of smoking.
Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable disease, death and disability in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Electronic cigarettes have not been fully studied, according to the Federal Drug Administration. Risks concerning the amount of nicotine and potentially harmful chemicals, as well as any benefits associated with using the product, are unknown, according to the FDA and other health officials.
Proponents of electronic cigarettes say the e-cig offers tobacco smokers a non-carcinogenic alternative.
Dr. David Lubin, resident radiologist at Upstate Medical Center, says electronic cigarettes are more likely to help tobacco smokers quit than nicotine patches and gum.
“Studies have shown that the associated acts of smoking – from holding the cigarette to taking puffs from it, and even lighting a cigarette – contribute to the addictive properties of smoking,” Lubin said in an email interview. “These ancillary acts help explain why nicotine-delivering gum and patches as well as even pharmacologic methods have relatively low success rates.”
Lubin cites a 12-month randomized controlled study testing the effectiveness of electronic cigarettes as a tobacco-cigarettes substitute. Researchers in Europe found a reduction in smoking of 10.3 percent at one year of tapered dose e-cigarettes and abstinence from smoking at one year of 8.7 percent.
“The nicotine in cigarettes has been shown to have a powerful effect on the reward pathway in the limbic system within the brain, which is what makes it so addictive,” Lubin said. “The look, feel, smell and act of inhaling a vaporized nicotine substance might address some of the pitfalls of previous methods and lead to a more successful cessation and sustained abstinence from smoking.”
Mary Ellen Carney, educator and organizer for Onondaga County Health Department’s Tobacco Control Program, says there have been no well-controlled studies that test the use of electronic cigarettes as devices to help tobacco smokers quit.
“If electronic cigarettes can help people quit smoking, obviously that’s a great thing for public health,” Carney said. “But the evidence just isn’t there yet as part of the public health community’s perspective.”
As a user of e-cigarettes and a salesman for them, Don Stevens, co-owner of Premium E-Cigs & Vapor Shop, disagrees. “Every day I get dozens of people that walk in the door that are basically walking success stories,” said Stevens. “People that had COPD and lung problems— and since they’ve come to my store they haven’t smoked in months.”
(Joshua B. Dermer is a senior majoring in newspaper and online journalism, with a minor in Middle Eastern studies and a specialization in forensic science.)