Insight Is 20/20

Exploring the pervasive, and unperceived, patterns that govern our lives

Electronic Cigarette: Next Teenager Addiction? Smoking Cure?

Advances in technology may help millions of smokers quit.

It's been almost two months since I've smoked a cigarette, after struggling with my addiction to smoking for about 20 years. A few months ago, when I told a friend I wanted to try to quit, he suggested that I try an electronic cigarette, one with vapor but without nicotine. You suck in the cigarette, as usual, but exhale vapor. One benefit of the electronic cigarette is that it provides oral gratification in that one can repeatedly suck on it, while other cessation measures (medication, nicotine patch, or eve nicotine gum) do not provide the same oral gratification. After my friend introduced me to the new type of cigarette, I kept using an electronic cigarette more frequently until I decided to try, try, try to give up smoking altogether. It was not easy for me, but I have done it so far.

Electronic cigarettes will soon be a booming industry, one that I imagine will surpass the tobacco cigarette industry. I read that Marlboro has its own version of an electronic cigarette debuting this fall, so some of these cigarette manufacturers must have a little anxiety tugging at their corporate bank accounts. They must see that the writing is on the wall for tobacco cigarettes.

The real question is whether electronic cigarettes are a panacea for smoking addiction. Here's the catch: Many of the electronic cigarettes sold have nicotine in them, so you need to be careful to not simply switch addictions. In preparing to write this article, I scoured the research to determine whether electronic cigarettes are hazardous - or not - to one's health, but electronic cigarettes are so new that we don't have sufficient research to educate us. 

Last week, as I waited in line at a major drugstore to purchase a couple of disposable electronic cigarettes, I marveled at the number of different types of electronic cigarettes they keep on display behind the counter. I started thinking about how electronic cigarettes are becoming much more common in a very short period of time, and I suddenly pictured teenagers and college students getting on the bandwagon, convincing themselves that they're not bad for one's health. When it comes to kids, parents should now add electronic cigarettes to the list of things (drugs, alcohool, and so on) they shouldn''t be doing. Why? Because I guarantee you electronic cigarettes are going to start showing up at your son's or daughter's parties with scary frequency.

In a few years, if not sooner, research on electronic cigarettes will be available, and the public will become much better educated about this potential panacea - or problem. The Food and Drug Administration has not approved electronic cigarettes at this point in time, so it makes sense for individuals to avoid using them altogether if possible. For me, I believe electronic cigarettes have helped me quit smoking, and a friend of mine reports that they've helped him quit, too. If you want to try one in order to help you quit smoking, talk to your doctor. If you decide to use one that has nicotine in it, just be careful to not continue or worsen your ongoing nicotine addiction.

Smoking is awful. It's a cruel habit that provides oral gratification to many of us who are cursed with anxiety, but we truly have the power - and now the technology? - to regain control and quit for good!

Seth Meyers, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist with the L.A. County Department of Mental Health.

more...

Subscribe to Insight Is 20/20

Current Issue

Love & Lust

Who says marriage is where desire goes to die?