Health Team

Doctor: E-cigarettes don't help smokers kick habit

Posted June 19, 2013
Updated July 1, 2013

There is an editor's note posted below this story.

Although many smokers believe that e-cigarettes can help them kick a stubborn and unhealthy habit, the battery-powered devices still aren't recommended by medical doctors as a viable solution. 

E-cigarettes aren't approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a smoking cessation device, and doctors at UNC Hospitals have found that they have almost no effect in helping people to quit smoking. 

Chris Coffey, a 32-year-old former smoker who started smoking more than a decade ago, said he tried different ways to quit. 

When he saw an online ad for electronic cigarettes, which combine nicotine with alcohol and water solution, he decided to give it a try. 

"For me, it didn't work at all," Coffey said. 

Adam Goldstein, director of UNC's Nicotine Dependence Program, said the story is similar for thousands of others who turn to e-cigarettes to try and stop smoking. 

"All of our patients ask about electronic cigarettes," he said. "All our patients who smoke. There's virtually no evidence that they are effective in helping people to quit smoking."

Goldstein said it's marketing that continues to push people to the devices. 

In spite of that popularity, Goldstein said he's concerned about long-term effects of nicotine mixed with the hot vapor. 

"It could be several thousand degrees when it hits your lungs," he said. "We know there are short-term adverse pulmonary respiratory effects."

Goldstein and others working in UNC's program do offer up to five different products to help smokers looking to quit.

For the past six months, Coffey has been combining a nicotine patch with Chantix, a nicotine receptor blocker. 

"It really helped a lot to take the edge off and to make it a lot more tolerable," he said. 

Goldstein said the products offered in Chapel Hill are both effective and better researched. 

"We know what the side effects are," he said. 

Although FDA-approved smoking cessation aids are only about 30 percent effective, they do give smokers a much better chance at success than if they attempt to stop on their own.

The state offers a helpline for those who are trying to quit. Call 1-800-784-8669 (1-800-QUIT-NOW).

For more resources, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.


Editor's Note: Many WRAL viewers have questioned the assertion by Adam Goldstein, director of UNC's Nicotine Dependence Program, that inhaled vapor from electronic cigarettes "could be several thousand degrees when it hits your lungs."

Goldstein's office replied: "We can’t find any citations about the temperature of the vapor specifically, but there is concern about the pulmonary respiratory effects of the vapor itself."

His office offered these relevant article links:

CHEST: Acute pulmonary effects of using an e-cigarette
CHEST: An unexpected consequece of electronic cigarette use

Goldstein acknowledged that some will say the devices helped them, but he says in his experience, they are in the minority.

He added the following statements:

"I was and remain concerned about potential lung damage when and if the electronic battery overheats or explodes, a situation that has resulted in reports of serious health consequences and damage. I did not mean to imply that such high exposure is routine for users, where temperatures without battery overheating are much less. I apologize for not making this distinction.

"Even with routine inhalation, published concerns about lung damage exist. Many physicians are also still concerned that electronic cigarettes have too little regulation, that there is insufficient evidence of safety and outcomes, and that they may offer a new gateway for youth or young adults especially to start using tobacco. I look forward to more research on safety, health outcomes and effectiveness. In the meantime, I congratulate everyone who is able to successfully quit cigarette smoking, the number one preventable cause of premature death in our society."


This story is closed for comments.

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  • SaltyOldJarhead Jun 25, 2013

    Well WRAL, are you going to give equal time to today's Routers article that detailed an e-cigg study that showed solid evidence refuting Goldstein's statements?


  • editorinchief Jun 24, 2013

    Goldstein is a Q-U-A-C-K. Several thousand degrees? Seriously?

    A mild carbon steel has a melting point of around 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit. This knucklehead expects us to believe that the vapor from a 7-9 watt electronic device can deliver that kind of energy?

    How much does Pfizer pay to get licensed MD's to spew such nonsense and where do I sign up?

    I smoked for 35 years and couldn't quit until I tried electronic cigarettes.

  • jalbe Jun 21, 2013

    Also, from an article right on the UNC Health Care site, "Dr. Goldstein has an unrestricted educational grant from Pfizer through the UNC School of Medicine to support development of inpatient tobacco cessation programs, and he has participated on Advisory Boards for Boehringer and Pfizer Pharmaceuticals."

    Hey, what do you know, Pfizer makes Chantix! As they say, "The rest is history."

  • jalbe Jun 21, 2013

    Good story here that would explain this article:

  • artumark Jun 21, 2013

    From this story, here are the important points to keep in mind:
    "Although FDA-approved smoking cessation aids are only about 30 percent effective, they do give smokers a much better chance at success than if they attempt to stop on their own."
    "Goldstein and others working in UNC's program do offer up to five different products to help smokers looking to quit."

    I am another ecig success story. 20 years smoking, then quit no problem with ecigs. I never had another single cigarette. Patches and gum never ever worked for me, and I tried them multiple times. I distrust our medical industry more and more everyday. We do not want any more of your "products". You should be ashamed of yourselves for trying to sabotage and badmouth the one thing that works FAR more than your garbage medications with pages of side-effects. When commercials have to use 75% of their time explaining side-effects, there is a problem.

  • Confucius say Jun 21, 2013

    They worked for me. After smoking a pack a day for 26 years, I stopped cold turkey 3 months ago. I finished my last pack of cigs and began smoking the e-cig. In addition I am also on Welbutrin, so I'm sure it is a combination of the two aids. I initially was smoking an e-cig every 2-3 days, as they are supposed to be equivalent to about 2 packs. Now I'm getting out of the habit and one will last me about 2 weeks. Feeling great!

  • SaltyOldJarhead Jun 21, 2013

    This article certainly shows the effects of the fact that UNC's Nicotine Dependence Program is sponsored by a Pfizer Medical Education Grant.

    The solution they recommend is: go to the doctor, pay money to get a prescription, then pay more money to get a patch and drugs that are both (coincidentally, I'm sure) made by Pfizer.

    The fact that this combination doesn't address the oral, visual, or tactile components of a smokers addiction is apparently of no interest to them - just tough it out.

    That's why so many folks have astonishing success by using e-ciggs to quit - the e-cigg addresses ALL of the components of the addiction. And does it with ingredients that have been recognized as safe for human consumption for over 50 years (same stuff as in an asthma inhaler).

  • batcave Jun 21, 2013

    1000 degrees? from a small battery, wow , energy crisis is solved.

  • sunshinesheila1 Jun 21, 2013


  • AConservativeLiberal Jun 21, 2013

    Brief search brings this up - interestingly enough, I cannot get the full text or even an abstract of this article - but any guesses on the conclusions?

    The risk of adverse cardiovascular events from varenicline balanced against the benefits in mortality from smoking cessation.
    Kistler CE, Goldstein AO.

    Department of Family Medicine, UNC School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA.

    Publication Types, MeSH Terms, Substances, Grant Support