Electronic Cigarettes: A Healthy Alternative to Smoking

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Electronic cigarettes, or "e-cigs," are a quickly-growing alternative to regular cigarettes, which have been slowly tapering off in the last few decades, likely due to their older user dying off, and younger potential smokers failing to pick up the proverbial slack. In order to cater to both those who will never pick up "real" smoking (such as youths, who view it as too dangerous) as well as, especially, those who already smoke but are having health issues because of it (such as the elderly), companies are making e-cigs "cool" again. But first, it is necessary to understand exactly what these "e-cigs" are and why they have potential.

Essentially, e-cigs are mock-cigarettes that run on a battery and delivers an inhaled dose of nicotine via vaporized solution to the respiratory system; very similar to the way actual cigarettes operate, save for a lack of tobacco and other harmful chemicals often found in cigarette smoke (Polosa, et al, 2011). These e-cigs provide a sensation that is very similar to smoking real cigarettes and, to the casual observer, even looks similar as well, so those who care about their appearance while smoking need not worry (Polosa, et al, 2011). Although they seem like a shoo-in as a replacement for real cigarettes, this has not been the case, due to a number of factors that must be overcome.

For starters, e-cigs have some catching up to do in the market share department. At present, the market for normal cigarettes is about $90 billion, while the market for e-cigs is a comparatively paltry $1.7 billion (Richtel, 2013). This has not dissuaded some companies, such as NJOY, from taking advantage of this small market share in order to maximize profits early. NJOY is just one of many e-cig companies that are aiming to change the way cigarettes are smoked, and view their product as a sort of natural evolution of cigarettes to a greener, healthier alternative (Richtel, 2013). For now, however, NJOY is focusing on a sort of transitory strategy for e-cigs. That is, they are creating e-cigs that look very similar to normal cigarettes so as to avoid the social stigma currently associated with e-cigs, which many still view as unnecessary and vain (Richtel, 2013). Their front is two-pronged, however, and NJOY is developing cigarettes that focus more on the evolutionary aspect of e-cigs, which are long, slender tubes that glow blue on the end instead of red and look nothing like normal cigarettes. These, NJOY expects, will become more and more popular as the stigma surrounding e-cigs begins to evaporate in the near future. These e-cigs, NJOY states, are much healthier than normal cigarettes, but still contain nicotine, so that smokers will still get their "fix" while not hurting their health in any real way. In order to help get the word out, NJOY is aggressively attempting to market these e-cigs as much as possible, as are many other companies, although NJOY has some of the most prominent spokesmen, such as the co-founder of PayPal, Peter Thiel, singer Bruno Mars, and former surgeon general Dr. Richard H. Carmona, whom NJOY hopes can help tout the benefits of e-cigs (Richtel, 2013).

Another benefit of e-cigs that NJOY, and most other e-cig companies, are trying to promote is the value of e-cigs compared to regular cigarettes. For example, one of NJOY's main e-cig models, the NJOY King, retails for $7.99 and contains the same amount of nicotine as a pack of twenty cigarettes, which retail for around the same price, but the NJOY King, like most other e-cigs, has a reservoir of nicotine fluid that can be refilled for about $3 or $4 (Richtel, 2013). This means that, after the initial investment of a mere $7.99, e-cigs will quickly begin saving the user more money that would have ordinarily been spent on regular cigarettes, and the value, for most regular smokers, is enormous, considering the price of regular cigarettes. If NJOY and similar e-cig companies want their products to become "must-have" items, especially for current smokers, they must stress, in their ad campaigns, the value that these e-cigs bring, and how smoking them relieves an itch that otherwise costs about $.50 to scratch each time, as opposed to about $.25. Another aspect of marketing that is important is that as this technology advances and more competitors pop up, greater advances will be made, which will result in an even more affordable product, as well as a closer and closer emulation of actual cigarette smoking.

Of course, these benefits require evidence in order to prove their integrity. For starters, studies show that the vast majority of those who use e-cigs were smokers in the past, which means that NJOY's focus on attracting current smokers is a wise one (Bergen and Phillips, 2009). Studies also show that electronic cigarettes are a relatively new invention for smokers, with most having been using e-cigs for less than five months, and, for the majority, having tried to stop smoking real cigarettes more than four times, with nicotine gum being the most common substitute tried before e-cigs (Bergen and Phillips, 2009). The effects of e-cigs are profound, and the same study found that 91% of respondents in the survey reported their health being better since they switched to e-cigs from real cigarettes (Bergen and Phillips, 2009). In addition, the vast majority of those surveys reported symptoms like smokers' cough, difficulty exercising, and a lack of sense of smell and taste had become much better since quitting smoking (Bergen and Phillips, 2009). In addition, smokers of regular cigarettes suffer from extremely high rates of suicide, ranging from 1.4 to 1, for former smokers, all the way to 4.3 to 1 for those who smoke more than fifteen cigarettes daily (Breslau, 2005). While the underlying reasons for these suicide rates are varied, there is a strong positive correlation between the smoking of regular cigarettes and suicide rates, and e-cigs can only help in that regard, since they can relieve the risk that harmful chemicals in cigarettes bring, but also provide nicotine so that smokers will not undergo depression as is common after quitting smoking (Breslau, 2005). These statistics are important because they represent e-cigs is a healthy viable alternative to real cigarettes, and an advantage that e-cig companies such as NJOY can use as leverage during their marketing campaign (which they will invest heavily in within the next few years) in order to attract those who want to quit smoking, but cannot due to the addiction aspect of it (Richtel, 2013). These studies also help to show how effective these e-cigs can be in general. Previously, many people doubted the effectiveness of e-cigs both as a substitute for cigarettes (i.e. people didn't stick with e-cigs), and as general health tools (i.e. it allows a user to "smoke" while eliminating the vast majority of health issues that come with smoking normally). Unfortunately, many health officials believe that there are still some harmful effects of e-cigs (perhaps because of certain psychological effects caused by the nicotine itself) that limit their use as a substitute for regular cigarettes. The fact of the matter is that there is simply not enough knowledge about e-cigs to properly judge their healthiness, or lack thereof, in a concrete way, although there have been many unofficial studies performed that tout their healthiness relative to regular cigarettes (Richtel, 2013).

One of the most prominent issues surrounding electronic cigarettes is their potential regulation by governments if they ever truly become a threat to the market share of regular cigarettes. In fact, e-cigs are actually already illegal due to safety concerns in Australia and Hong Kong, while others regulate them as medicinal devices or simply limit their advertising altogether (Zezima, 2009). The United States is focused mainly on preventing e-cigs from being imported and used on a truly widespread level before extensive testing on them can be performed, although some believe this is simply political jargon for "figure out a way to tax them" (Zezima, 2009). In addition, many distributors of e-cigs say that they're concerned about a bill that would give the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco could also be used on e-cigs (Zezima, 2009). The bill would also give the FDA the power to regulate nicotine gum, which is a smoking cessation product, the same as e-cigs, although many e-cig manufacturers deny that e-cigs are designed exclusively to replace cigarettes (Zezima, 2009). Considering the relatively early stage of their development, this bill could be fatal for e-cig manufacturers in the United States (Zezima, 2009).

One aspect that e-cigs might have trouble with is their side-effects. While, remarkably, a study showed that regular e-cig users did not experience the normal side-effects that come with extinguishing a smoker's behavior such as depression, insomnia, irritability, or hunger, there were short-term side effects (Polosa, et al, 2011). For example, 20.6 percent of those surveyed reported mouth irritation, 32 percent reported throat irritation, and 32 percent also reported dry cough (Polosa, et al, 2011). However, these side effects were largely relegated to initial uses of e-cigs and waned each time they would come in for study, meaning that these side effects are generally only seen initially. This does mean that e-cigs will have a harder time catching on in the market, when users, even regular cigarette smokers, have a chance of having these adverse effects, which could turn them away from e-cigs altogether, as, compounded with the normal effects of quitting smoking, these additional side-effects could be too much.

While electronic cigarettes certainly have their downsides, mostly having to do with their initial deployment and complications therein, they have the potential to match the regular cigarette market and even, eventually, surpass it. The key to e-cigs' success is their healthiness, and companies such as NJOY must focus on this benefit while also stressing that the e-cigs will still deliver the "feeling" of smoking, as well as look very similar, to boot. It seems reasonable to assume that these e-cigs truly are the future of smoking since they remove much of the risk and harm that regular cigarettes do, but retain most of the positives about smoking that might have been turning potential smokers away for years.

References

Bergen, P., Nissen, C., & Phillips, C. V. (2009). Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) as potential tobacco harm reduction products: Results of an online survey of e-cigarette users Karyn Heavner James Dunworth.

Breslau, N., Schultz, L. R., Johnson, E. O., Peterson, E. L., & Davis, G. C. (2005). Smoking and the risk of suicidal behavior: A prospective study of a community sample. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(3), 328.

Polosa, R., Caponnetto, P., Morjaria, J., Papale, G., Campagna, D., & Russo, C. (2011). Effect of an electronic nicotine delivery device (e-Cigarette) on smoking reduction and cessation: A prospective 6-month pilot study. BMC Public Health, 11(1), 786.

Richtel, M. (2013) The E-cigarette industry, waiting to exhale. The New York Times. 27 Nov. 2013. Retrieved from www.nytimes.com/2013/10/27/business/the-e-cigarette-industry-waiting-to-exhale.html?partner=rss&emc=rss.

Zezima, K. (2009). Cigarettes without smoke or regulation. The New York Times. New York.