Health & Science

Lack of Research On E-Cigarettes A Big Concern For Anti-Smoking Advocates

In the past few years, the federal government has cracked down on the sale and advertising of cigarettes. But it doesn't have the same control over so-called electronic cigarettes. Their use is booming.


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*This story originally aired September 2, 2013

Instead of smoking, it's called vaping – inhaling the vapors of nicotine.

Dr. Paul Cinciripini is director of tobacco research and treatment at MD Anderson. He says the battery-powered devices, called electronic or e-cigarettes, come in all shapes and sizes.

"Some of them look like cigarettes, some of them don't look anything like cigarettes. But it's the same principle, you have the nicotine-containing cartridge, (to) which of course you can add, depending on the manufacturer, a bunch of flavors to it — licorice, and cherry and other things to make it more appealing."

Cinciripini says e-cigarettes may be less harmful, because you aren't inhaling dozens of carcinogens and other additives that are found in regular cigarettes.

e cig
A photo of 117mm e-cigarette [Wikipedia image, 2008]

But because e-cigarettes are unregulated, there are still a lot of unknowns about what's in them.

"If you go to the websites you'll see a lot of claims — better than smoking — maybe. Yeah, maybe. But we haven't tested that."

Cinciripini says the levels of nicotine in the e-cigarettes can vary widely, and it's not clear how effectively they work as a tool to quit smoking, if at all.

"How many people may in fact go on to quit. Would that actually promote quitting or would that actually delay quitting?"

Another MD Anderson researcher, Dr. Alex Prokhorov, says e-cigarettes may prove especially tempting to young people.

For one, they can have added flavorings, which are now banned from tobacco cigarettes. Additionally, they appeal to a generation raised on handheld digital devices.

"Some of them are really cool looking because they even have little gauges that show you the battery life and this and that and you know how kids are curious about these new gadgets and gizmos, and that's what makes me particularly uneasy."

Prokhorov says he wants more long-term research on e-cigarettes and behavior.

"It's a gateway gizmo to potentially start your tobacco-use career, and it could be for life."

Cinciripini says that for now, adults who want to quit smoking should stick to rigorously-tested methods.

"Like nicotine replacement products and counseling. Calling a quit line. Getting a prescription medication from your physician that is FDA-approved for this purpose. That's where you really need to go, not to e-cigarettes, go to the tried-and-true."


Quitting Resources: or 1-800QUITNOW
Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco
National Institute on Drug Abuse

Resources for Young People:
ASPIRE – online anti-tobacco curriculum
Tobacco Free Teens iPhone app


MD Anderson is currently recruiting people for two major smoking cessation studies:


Phone Number: 713-792-2265
Population: adult smokers (age 18-65) in the Houston metropolitan and surrounding areas
The goal of this clinical research study is to learn about the safety of Chantix (Varenicline) and of Wellbutrin (Bupropion) compared to placebo and nicotine-replacement therapy (“the patch” — NRT) when given to smokers with or without a history of a mental health disorder.

HLT (High vs. Low Dose Topiramate)

Phone Number: 713-792-2265
Population: adult smokers (age 18-65) in the Houston metropolitan and surrounding areas
Topiramate has been used to reduce drinking and smoking behavior. The goal of this clinical study is to learn if Topiramate used in both high and low doses increases the percentage of people with no drinking days, while also increasing the rate of smoking abstinence.

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