For people who want to kick the habit of smoking, opting for the alternative - such as the use of electronic nicotine delivery systems or e-cigarettes - seems like the safer bet. After all, using e-cigarettes is believed to be less risky than using conventional cigarettes.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) even found in a 2014 survey that 55 percent of adults who have quit smoking used an e-cigarette once, while about 22 percent currently uses the device. It implies that adult smokers turn to e-cigarettes instead of the usual type.

However, several new and past studies suggest that the notion that e-cigarettes are less dangerous than conventional cigarettes may be incorrect. The electronic smoking device was found to damage human cells, among many other side effects.

E-cigarettes may not really be effective in helping smokers quit at all, experts said.

How Are E-Cigarettes Ineffective?

In a new study issued in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) performed a meta-analysis and systematic review of published data on smoking.

The UC San Francisco researchers reviewed 38 studies that focused on the association between cigarette cessation or quitting, and e-cigarette use among adult smokers. They combined their findings with the results from 20 studies that had control groups.

The team discovered that adult smokers who use e-cigarettes are actually 28 percent less likely to quit smoking conventional cigarettes.

"The irony is that quitting smoking is one of the main reasons both adults and kids use e-cigarettes, but the overall effect is less, not more, quitting," said Professor Stanton A. Glantz, co-author of the study.

"The way e-cigarettes are available on the market - for use by anyone and for any purpose - creates a disconnect between the provision of e-cigarettes for cessation as part of a monitored clinical trial and the availability of e-cigarettes for use by the general population," the study authors wrote.

Opposing Views

However, the new UC San Francisco study received criticism from the e-cig industry and other health experts.

The largest trade group representing the e-cig industry expressed surprise at the results of the UC San Francisco meta-analysis, particularly because Glantz's previous work on the efficacy of e-cigs was marred with errors, the group said.

According to a representative from the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association (SFATA), a non-profit group called the Truth Initiative has found that the study was "invalid" and "scientifically inappropriate."

The Truth Initiative said a majority of the studies in the meta-analysis were riddled with poor measurement of exposures. 

"This meta-analysis simply lumps together the errors of inference from these correlations," the nonprofit wrote.

Are E-cigarettes Safe To Use?

E-cigarettes are promoted as a way to quit conventional cigarettes. These battery-powered devices can heat nicotine and flavorings to deliver aerosol which is inhaled by the user. In places where conventional cigarettes are banned, e-cigarettes are promoted widely.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet taken action against companies that claim e-cigarettes are effective in quitting smoking. No company has also yet submitted evidence or application to the FDA to approve e-cigarette use as an alternative to conventional smoking.

The FDA believes that e-cigarettes pose some kind of harm to users. From previous studies conducted by different groups, the dangers of using e-cigarettes could include increased risk for cancer and the development of the popcorn lung disease.

A previous UC San Francisco study found that vapors from e-cigarettes can be source of indoor air pollution, and that bystanders near the e-cigarette smoker are exposed to the aerosol, as well. The study also found that e-cigarettes are becoming increasingly popular among the youth.

Tighten Regulations

Still, health groups are urging the FDA to tighten regulations on e-cigarettes the same way that tobacco is regulated in the States.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) said the FDA should ban advertisements on flavored e-cigarette products, put taxes on the device, and prohibit the use of the device on public places.

"Tobacco use continues to be a major health threat to children, adolescents and adults," said Dr. Karen M. Wilson, chair of the AAP Section on Tobacco Control. The presence of nicotine in e-cigarettes is highly dangerous for the developing brains of the youth, she added.

How To Effectively Quit Smoking

Medical experts from the Mayo Clinic and from other research groups suggest several methods to help you quit smoking.

1. Try Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT). NRT includes nicotine patches, the nicotine nasal spray, the nicotine inhaler, gum and lozenges. A previous study found that NRT may not be safe or effective for some people. Talk to a trusted medical professional first before using NRT. While the FDA announced that there is no significant safety concern regarding the NRT, it is still best to know what works for you.

2. Try Cytisine pills. An alternative to NRT is the use of cytisine pills. Cytisine is a plant-based drug that has been helping smokers in the Central and Eastern Europe quit smoking. This pill is also cheaper and more affordable than NRT.

3. Avoid triggers, delay or chew on it. The Mayo Clinic suggests that smokers should identify the situations that trigger them to use cigarettes or tobacco. It may be stress-induced, or being at bars, parties, or inside the car. Have a plan to avoid these situations entirely or get through them without smoking.

People who want to quit can also tell themselves to wait for 10 or 15 minutes before giving in to cravings, and then do something as a distraction so the waiting is forgotten.

Aside from that, people who want to quit could chew on something to fight a cigarette craving. Chew on hard candy, sugarless gum, or even celery, nuts, carrots and sunflower seeds.

4. Get physical. Experts say physical activity can distract a person from tobacco cravings and reduce them at the same time. You can get out for a jog or some brisk walking, or get a gym membership. Aside from physical activity, you can write in a journal, do needlework or woodwork, or even clean your house.

5. Try relaxation techniques. Lastly, as stress may be one factor that triggers smoking, you can avoid the habit by performing relaxation techniques. You can meditate, do deep-breathing exercises, yoga, visualization, hypnosis, or get a massage.

Photo: Joseph Morris | Flickr

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