Smoking cigarettes kills 480,000 people in this country every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Such a staggering number demands that smoking cessation be a top priority in the United States. Yet, how people secede from tobacco is a matter of contention, one that is worth looking into.
Historically, when people have attempted to quit smoking, they have turned to nicotine patches, gums and smoking cessation medications like Chantix and Bupropion (Wellbutrin). While such methods have helped a significant number of people quit, for many they are ineffective. In recent years, millions of people have given e-cigarettes a shot, which has drawn a lot of scrutiny.
If you have attended a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) in recent years, then it is likely you have seen scores of people using electronic cigarettes, otherwise known as e-cigarettes or just e-cigs. The devices vaporize a liquid that contains various levels of nicotine, and they are believed to be a safer alternative to traditional forms of tobacco use despite the fact that there is little research to support the claim.
Claims have also been made that suggest e-cigarettes are a viable smoking cessation tool, despite research that suggests otherwise. However, there is no research that proves that e-cigs are as bad, or worse than regular cigarettes. Conflicting opinions and concerns about teenage e-cigarette use led to a call by a number of lawmakers demanding that legislation be put in place to ensure that warnings about the dangers of e-cigarette use be stamped on packaging. What’s more, setting age restrictions in line with current tobacco use laws.
A Billion Dollar Industry of Doubt
E-cigarettes hit the market around ten years ago, and in the last few years the it became a multi-billion-dollar industry. Every major tobacco company has a version of an electronic cigarette and you can find “vaping” stores in every major city in the world. It would seem that e-cig sales can only continue to go in one direction, up! But, that has not been the case and believe it or not, health experts are concerned.
The attempts to discourage e-cigarette use among teenagers and adults who have never used tobacco products has had the unintended effect of discouraging current smokers from making the switch to vaping, The New York Times reports. Scientists and policymakers, alike, believe that attempts by some to make e-cigarettes seem unsafe could be hurting the 40 million smokers in this country that may benefit from e-cigs. The vigilant need to portray e-cigarettes in poor light has resulted in a significant drop in sales, forcing one major company (NJoy) to file bankruptcy.
While e-cigarettes are not completely safe, and often contain nicotine which is addictive, the majority of health experts in the field of tobacco use believe that they are safer than traditional cigarettes. Yet, e-cigs are now regulated exactly the same as tobacco, which means that people are believing them to be just as bad, potentially in error.
“When they are regulated just like tobacco, people draw the conclusion that they are just as dangerous,” said Daniel I. Wikler, an ethicist at the Harvard School of Public Health. “You didn’t say it, but you didn’t have to. People make that assumption and you don’t try to disabuse them of it.”
We have known for a long time the dangers associated with tobacco use, including a number of forms of cancer and heart disease. As a result, it is much harder to be a smoker today than it once was; cigarettes are much more expensive and there are far fewer places that allow smoking. Efforts to reduce smoking rates in the United States have been successful; smoking rates have dropped dramatically over the course of the last few decades. Nevertheless, there are still an estimated 40 million adults in the United States who currently smoke cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
While smoking cigarettes comes at a great cost to one’s health and pocketbook, it turns out that those who smoke cigarettes experience another expense as well. New research indicates that smokers struggle on the job market, and remain unemployed longer than nonsmokers, CBS News reports. The study was conducted by researchers from Stanford University and the findings were published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
“There’s been good knowledge of the harms of smoking in terms of health, but it’s also important to appreciate the fiscal harms of tobacco use,” said lead study author Judith Prochaska, PhD, MPH.
What’s more, the researchers found that even when smokers manage to find employment – they earn much less than their nonsmoking peers, according to the article. The research involved 131 unemployed smokers and 120 unemployed nonsmokers. Only 27 percent of smokers found a job after a year’s time, compared with 56 percent of nonsmokers; of those smokers who found a job, they averaged $5 less per hour, compared to their nonsmoking peers.
“The health harms of smoking have been established for decades,” said Prochaska in a news release, “and our study here provides insight into the financial harms of smoking both in terms of lower re-employment success and lower wages.”
There are plenty of incentives to quit smoking, as is clear by the mountains of research that has been conducted over the years. However, it is often said that nicotine is one of the most difficult addictive substances to quit, the reason for which are varied but it is possible to quit. The best shot of quitting usually comes by way of behavioral therapy in conjunction with smoking cessation products, such as nicotine gum or patches.
It is worth pointing out that research conducted recently has found that those in addiction recovery who smoke cigarettes are at greater risk of relapse than those who do not smoke. If you are in recovery and still smoke, a serious consideration of quitting may be in order.
A large percentage of people who seek treatment for a substance use disorder also smoke cigarettes. While some are able to use smoking cessation therapies while in treatment to beat nicotine, more times than not the habit follows patients after treatment. Quitting smoking is a challenging feat and researchers continue to look for new ways to aid smokers in their attempt to quit.
Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have conducted a study on a bacterial enzyme that could prove useful in creating a new smoking cessation drug, ScienceDaily reports. The enzyme can be recreated in lab settings.
“Our research is in the early phase of drug development process, but the study tells us the enzyme has the right properties to eventually become a successful therapeutic,” said Kim Janda, the Ely R. Callaway Jr. Professor of Chemistry and member of the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at TSRI.
The researchers would like to use the enzyme to “seek out and destroy” nicotine before it reaches the brain, disabling the user’s ability to achieve the desired euphoric effect. The idea is similar to other drugs available that block the euphoric effects of opioids, such as naltrexone.
NicA2 is a bacteria known as Pseudomonas putida, it is found in the soil of a tobacco field. The bacterium relies on nicotine, being its only source of carbon and nitrogen, according to the article.
“The bacterium is like a little Pac-Man,” said Janda. “It goes along and eats nicotine.”
It will be interesting to see if a drug is developed out of the bacterial enzyme, and if so, the impact it has on the future of smoking cessation. Keep in mind that the current smoking cessation therapies available are not successful for at least 80 to 90 percent of smokers.
The findings were published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
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