E-Cigarettes: Smoke and Mirrors?

July 4, 2011

While one million smokers now hope e-cigarettes cure their addiction, one academic says the data does not add up in the first-ever U.S. study on the matter.

Hollywood got Freda Souligny smoking at just 13.

"If you look at the old movies now, they're just filled with smoke," said Souligny.

Now 81, she had a pack-a-day habit for 61 years. She stopped when emphysema led her to electric cigarettes two months ago.

"I didn't feel this horrible withdrawal," said Souligny.

Battery-operated, they deliver nicotine vapor through an adjustable cartridge, and cost about $60 to start. Freda kicked her habit by slowly cutting the nicotine dose over several weeks, but Virginia Commonwealth University professor Tom Eissenberg says e-cigs are misleading.

"We wanted to know if they really delivered nicotine - one of the things they're supposed to do - if they really produce some of the same effects as a tobacco cigarette," said Eissenberg.

A pair of studies found that while real cigarettes deliver nicotine, e-cigs do not - despite claiming to do so.

"Neither of them delivered nicotine, which was surprising, because that is - in fact - exactly what they are supposed to do," said Eissenberg.

He says smoking an e-cig is just like puffing on an un-lit cigarette - no nicotine, no tobacco - nothing.

Souligny disagrees.

"Well, you have to tell me what changed my life," said Souligny. "It wasn't medication - 'cause I didn't take medication."

The studies say e-cigs can cut the urge to smoke by nearly half, so Souligny's mind may be tricking her body, but she doesn't care.

"To me, it's just been miraculous," said Souligny.

Professor Eissenberg says e-cigs may indeed be a key tool in helping people quit standard cigarettes.

Still, he is calling for tighter government control of the products. The reason: if they do not do what they claim to do, consumers have the right to know.

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