E-Cigarettes: A Smoker's Alternative?

September 3, 2013

Originally Published July 05, 2011

Can e-cigarettes really improve the health of your lungs or help you kick the habit as a smoker?

For those new to the term, electronic cigarettes ("e-cigarettes") are products designed to deliver nicotine in the form of vapor. They are composed of a rechargeable, battery-operated heating element, a replaceable cartridge that may contain nicotine or other chemicals, and an atomizer, that when heated, converts the contents of the cartridge into a vapor for inhaling.  E-cigarettes come in flavors such as strawberry, chocolate and mint and can be purchased online and in shopping malls.

Danielle Coates, Doctor of Divinity (DD), Grants and Federal Funds Manager with the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD), believes switching to e-cigarettes from tobacco has improved her health. Coates smoked traditional cigarettes for 25 years before quitting in 1989.  She started again in 2009 during a personal emotional crisis and she quit smoking traditional cigarettes last summer when she discovered e-cigarettes.

"I definitely do not consider myself a smoker with e-cigarettes," commented Coates. "First and foremost, e-cigarettes free me from the tars and chemicals in traditional tobacco-based cigarettes and the associated health risks.  Nicotine levels in e-cigarettes can be regulated through cartridges with nicotine levels from 'high' (equivalent to traditional cigarettes) all the way down to 'none,' leaving only the 'taste' of whatever flavor is chosen. And just holding something in my hands and 'puffing' during smoke breaks with friends made it easier for me to give up tobacco cigarettes while still maintaining the smoking lifestyle. The difference is significant enough for me to draw a very definite line between 'smoking traditional cigarettes' and 'using e-cigarettes'." 

Coates understands the health consequences of traditional cigarettes and the benefits of quitting.

"I have asthma and my breathing capacity is monitored regularly by my doctor," she added.  "Recently, my doctor tested my lung capacity. Unlike a year ago, the machine indicated that my lung capacity was 125 percent of what is classified as 'normal' for a woman in my age group.  Last year, my lung capacity was 85 percent.  The doctor and I agreed it is because I do not have the contaminants from traditional cigarettes in my lungs any longer. That is a DEFINITE 'pro' in my book. I do not miss traditional cigarettes."

Can e-cigarettes ever keep state employees and their family members from having to pay the tobacco surcharge?

PHWEEK talked to Cheryl Williams, RN, CCM, Clinical Director, State Health Benefits Plan (SHBP) about e-cigarettes and the $80 tobacco surcharge to the monthly premium.  Williams advised that "if the e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco, there is no surcharge" to SBHP members.

"At this time, SHBP does not cover tobacco cessation medications or devices including e-cigarette; however, should SHBP decide to cover any of these items in the future, the decision would take into consideration information and studies from credible sources such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) around the long-term safety and efficacy of these products." 

While Coates is enjoying her new-found health benefits with e-cigarettes, some health experts believe research is needed to address the long-term effects of e-cigarettes.

Adolescent and adult tobacco users are encouraged to call the Georgia Tobacco Quit Line at 1-877-270-STOP (7867), a free resource to all. Specially-trained tobacco cessation counselors are available from 8am - 12 midnight.

For FDA Consumer Updates on e-cigarettes, visit: http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm225210.htm

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