Cut Through the Smoke - Learn the Truth about Cigarette Alternatives
It’s no secret smoking increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and cancer (lung and otherwise) — and it’s the single largest cause of preventable death in the United States. While cigarette smoking is slowly but steadily declining, many people are turning to e-cigarettes, chewing tobacco, hookah and crafty cigarette imitators called cigarillos to fill the gap.
The trouble is, unlike the medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for smoking cessation, all of these cigarette alternatives may carry serious risks. It’s a mistake to use them to help quit cigarettes in place of medications that are proven safe and effective — or when quitting cold turkey is an option.
So, before trading one unhealthy habit for another, here’s what you need to know about trendy cigarette alternatives:
- E-cigarettes. These battery-operated devices use vapor instead of smoke to deliver nicotine and flavorings. The flavors used in e-cigarettes have been approved by the FDA to be added to foods, but that doesn’t mean they’re safe to breathe into your lungs. What’s more, the vials of candy-flavored nicotine juice can be enticing but deadly for children and pets.
- Hookah. Hookah is a water pipe used to smoke flavored and sweetened tobacco. The water doesn’t filter out the bad stuff; it simply cools the smoke. That allows you to inhale more deeply, which could be more harmful. Proponents sometimes say using a hookah is safer than cigarettes, but there can be a great deal of tobacco in the apparatus. Smoke it all yourself and you’ve just inhaled 5 packs. Share it with a group and you could contract communicable diseases from the pipe. It’s also important to note sellers may claim their products contain only herbal ingredients, but that doesn’t mean it’s tobacco-free. Most hookah tobacco contains the same toxic chemicals (and addictive nicotine) that make cigarettes so harmful.
- Spit tobacco. Also called chew, dip and chaw among other names, this product comes in two forms: snuff (for dipping) and chewing tobacco (for chewing). In either case, the nicotine-laced grains sit in your mouth where you suck on the juices, spitting as necessary to ditch the saliva that builds up. In addition to short-term issues like bad breath and stained teeth, chewing tobacco causes mouth sores, cracked and bleeding lips, and gum disease, and it dramatically increases the risk of heart disease and cancer (particularly oral, throat, and stomach cancer). Spit tobacco has higher concentrations of nicotine, making it even more addictive than cigarettes.
- Cigarillos. While cigar use isn’t necessarily on the upswing, smokers who want an inexpensive hit of nicotine may turn to cigarillos, or little cigars. These products look and function like cigarettes, but they’re wrapped in brown paper instead of white. Cigarillos are as dangerous as cigarettes. They just cost less.
Your best bet: Commit to quit. Inform your friends and family about your decision, ask for their support and start planning strategies to manage a life free of tobacco. Track your smoking habits, taking note of the times when you smoke and the emotions that come up, then determine what you can do in place of smoking to fill up that space.
Do not be afraid to ask for help. The FDA has approved a number of medications, both with and without nicotine, to help smokers quit.
If you typically smoke in social situations, what could you use to distract yourself? If you rely on smoking as a stress reliever, what other options are available to you? Share below.