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Linda Rosenberg

Former President and CEO, National Council for Behavioral Health

eCigarettes: Harmful or Helpful?

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Despite knowing the dangers of smoking and losing my father and grandfather to lung cancer, I smoked for 25 years.  It took me 10 years of trying to finally quit. My husband has been on his journey even longer. Most recently, he began using eCigarettes as his newest weapon in what has been a long, losing battle. Now, instead of just smoking traditional cigarettes, he’s smoking twice as much — using both traditional and electronic cigarettes.

Each year, there are more than 400,000 deaths from tobacco use, half of which are people living with mental illnesses and addictions. While the 2014 report of the Surgeon General found that smoking rates have dropped by half in the last 50 years, disparities still exist. Statistics show that those individuals with mental illness or addiction are particularly affected by tobacco use, over 50% of those individuals smoke compare to 23% of the general population. They are also only half as likely to quit. Not only is this population smoking more, but we know they are also more likely to die from cancer, both tobacco related and non.

Today, there is a rising concern about the use of electronic cigarettes.  Marketed as a safer alternative to cigarettes, the FDA warns that eCigarettes can contain carcinogens and toxic chemicals like those found in antifreeze. A recent paper published in the Journal on Tobacco Control found that there are over 460 different eCigarette brands and 7,700 flavors on the market today — an astounding number. There are no scientific studies to support the claims that they can help someone to quit smoking, and  unregulated,  eCigarettes are marketed and sold to young people. In fact, the percentage of U.S. middle and high school students who use eCigarettes has more than doubled between 2011 and 2012.

The National Council sees tobacco use among those with addictions and mental illnesses  as a  public health crisis, one that with our partners, the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center and the Behavioral Health and Wellness Program, we are addressing. Thanks to support from Pfizer, we are providing information and evidence based practices, and sharing success stories to assist behavioral health organizations and practitioners to prevent and reduce tobacco use.

As we continue our efforts, we need your help. Please take a few moments to answer three questions. Are you seeing an increase in the use of eCigarettes? Are you addressing the use of eCigarettes? Do you need more information about the dangers of eCigarettes?