Electronic cigarettes were first developed in China in 2003 and made their way to the U.S. and Europe three years later. Sales have been increasing every year, and with an estimated 3 million users, total revenue is expected to reach more than $1 billion by the end of 2013. Many analysts believe that within the next decade, e-cigarettes will outsell traditional tobacco cigarettes, which is now an $80 billion-a-year market.
While many physicians and anti-smoking advocates concede e-cigarettes, along with other noncombustible forms of nicotine delivery, are probably less harmful than smoking tobacco cigarettes, none said they were prepared to endorse their patients using them as a smoking alternative.
“I think there is potential for e-cigarettes to help people stop,” said Thomas Glynn, director of cancer science and trends for the American Cancer Society. “It's probably not going to be a panacea or magic bullet. But to date, the information we have on whether they help people to stop or not is mostly anecdotal. There have been a few studies and a number of ones ongoing, and the data have been mixed.”
Danny McGoldrick, vice president for research at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said the problem with people using e-cigarettes as a way to quit smoking lies with the lack of information about their safety. People who use them could stop using nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products that have been federally proven to be safe and effective.
“Everyone wants more effective smoking-cessation devices, and what we need is some science and some evidence,” McGoldrick said. “We need innovative products to help people quit smoking, but they need to be safe and effective, and they need to not encourage new smoking or relapse for former smokers.”
An e-cigarette basically consists of a solution containing propylene glycol, which is used as a food preservative; vegetable glycerin, a sugar substitute; polyethylene glycol, a compound used in medicines and skin creams; and concentrated levels of nicotine, none of which are known to cause cancer. By contrast, there are approximately 600 ingredients in a tobacco cigarette, which can create an estimated 4,000 chemicals when smoked, according to the American Lung Association. Such chemicals include lead, ammonia, a household cleaner and formaldehyde, all of which are known carcinogens, according to HHS.