Despite the well-known harmful effects of smoking, too many cigarette users still smoke due to their heavy addiction to nicotine. A recent study suggests that the electronic cigarette would facilitate smoking cessation and could therefore represent a very useful aid for people who want to quit smoking.
At the doses present in a cigarette, nicotine has the characteristic of activating what is called the “reward circuit” of the brain. In people who smoke regularly, this reward circuit gradually strengthens and becomes more and more important for the well-being of the person, which creates very intense feelings of withdrawal when quitting smoking. The addictive power of nicotine is enormous: it is estimated that more than a third of people who have smoked at least one cigarette become addicted to tobacco, a higher percentage than for all other drugs, including heroin, cocaine or the alcohol.
Do patches and chewing gum provide enough relief from cravings?
Over the past 30 years, the implementation of a tobacco control plan (information campaigns, significant increase in taxes, abolition of advertising, ban on smoking in public spaces) has made it possible to significantly reduce the number of smokers. However, 20% of the population remains addicted to tobacco and finds it extremely difficult to quit, even though surveys indicate that the majority of these people would like to quit. Nicotine substitutes (patches, gums) or drugs can sometimes be useful, but in most cases, these interventions fail to effectively relieve the feeling of withdrawal that accompanies nicotine withdrawal. It therefore seems that new avenues must be considered to further reduce the number of smokers who fail to quit.
Does the e-cigarette help with smoking cessation?
The arrival on the market of electronic cigarettes could bring a new dimension to the fight against tobacco. The principle behind these products is relatively simple: a nicotine solution is heated using an atomizer, which generates a white “vapor” similar in appearance to cigarette smoke. The “vaper” therefore inhales a small amount of nicotine, like a smoker, but the vapor does not contain the many carcinogenic molecules and the fine particles formed during the combustion of tobacco. These “e-cigarettes” are therefore essentially vectors for administering a drug (nicotine), but much less dangerous than traditional cigarettes.
A recent study of 5,863 UK smokers suggests that e-cigarettes may also significantly improve nicotine withdrawal success. According to this study, smokers who try to quit on their own, without the support of a health professional, have about 60% more chance of successful withdrawal with e-cigarettes than if they use e-cigarettes. nicotine substitutes.
The e-cigarette: a major turning point for public health
The appearance of e-cigarettes is greeted with enthusiasm by a large number of health professionals who face the ravages caused by tobacco on a daily basis. A group of international experts comprising oncologists and tobacco specialists recently pleaded with the World Health Organization to encourage greater use of these products. This, they argue, is a valid strategy for reducing the harms of smoking, an approach that targets consequences rather than behaviors. For opponents of all forms of smoking, on the other hand, e-cigarettes are just a “Trojan horse,” a stepping stone to a renormalization of tobacco that could eventually reverse the gains made in recent years.
On the one hand, we must of course remain very vigilant in the face of these products: nicotine is a very dangerous substance, the sale of which must be strictly regulated, especially among young people.
However, the enormous harm reduction potential offered by e-cigarettes cannot be overlooked. Six million people die each year from diseases caused by tobacco consumption and the substitution of current cigarettes by their electronic version could represent a major turning point in the history of humanity by preventing millions of deaths in the 21st century.
Brown J et al. Real-world effectiveness of e-cigarettes when used to aid smoking cessation: a cross-sectional population study. Addiction.