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Home » News » Health » Electronic Cigarettes A Safer Option For Smokers

Electronic Cigarettes A Safer Option For Smokers

 Electronic Cigarettes A Safer Option For Smokers

October 6, 2012

James H. O'Keefe, MD


When a person lights up a cigarette and takes the first drag on it, how long do you suppose it takes for the tobacco smoke to start “lighting up” the nicotine receptors in the brain? About seven to 10 seconds
faster even than if one would have injected the nicotine into an arm vein!

The immediate rush of euphoria and relaxation caused by stimulating the nicotine receptors in the brain is part of the intensely addictive nature of smoking, and why it can be such an impossibly difficult habit to break. It is also why electronic cigarettes can be very helpful in weaning smokers away from their tobacco habit.

It turns out that the chemical that makes tobacco so dangerously addictive, is on its own, pretty harmless to one’s health. Nicotine is a compound that our body naturally synthesizes for use in fundamental functions in the cells and brain. It is the combined noxious effects of the other 4,000 toxic chemicals created by burning tobacco that, when inhaled, pollute our system and predispose to cancer, heart disease and premature aging.

A new study just presented at the European Society of Cardiology showed that e-cigarettes do not seem to be harmful to the heart. A second study, this one published in the journal Chest, reported that e-cigarettes are also safe for the lungs, at least in the short term. 

The electronic nicotine-delivery device, commonly referred to as the e-cigarette, was invented in 2003 by a Chinese pharmacist as an alternative to smoking, and has been used by millions of individuals already. E-cigarettes are about the size and shape of a real cigarette and consist of a cartridge containing liquid nicotine dissolved in a flavored fluid, with a battery and a heating element that warms and evaporates the liquid to a vapor.

Typically, smoking one tobacco cigarette infuses about 1 to 1.5 mg of nicotine into the bloodstream; an e-cigarette is designed to deliver about this same amount per “smoking session.” Whereas smoking a real cigarette causes a sudden rise in blood pressure, pulse, with worsening of inflammation and increased tendency for dangerous blood clots, using an e-cigarette appears to cause no major adverse immediate effects on the heart, lungs or blood vessels.

E-Cigarettes Alleviate Both Chemical and Behavioral Addiction

The effectiveness of e-cigarettes relates to their ability to address both sides of a smoker’s addiction: the brain’s craving for a rush of nicotine-receptor stimulation, and the psychological/behavioral habit that goes along with having something in your hand, that when you inhale through, stimulates an immediate sense of pleasure and relaxation.

Take home message:  if you or someone you care about is a smoker, get him or her to try to change over to an e-cigarette.

Just as the addiction to caffeine can be a harmless pleasure when it’s done in the form of dependence on coffee or tea (rather than sweetened soft drinks like colas), the addiction to nicotine appears to be largely harmless when it is accomplished without having to inhale smoke from burning tobacco.

Dr. O’Keefe is a cardiologist with Saint Luke’s Cardiovascular Consultants, located in Lee’s Summit at 20 N.E. Saint Luke’s Blvd., Suite 110, 816-931-1883. To read Dr. O’Keefe’s newsletter, From the Heart, online visit:http://www.saintlukeshealthsystem.org/saint-lukes-cardiovascular-consultants-newsletter.

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