What is a Smoke Stick? More Importantly, is it Safe?: If Everyone Jumped

This week’s IEJ is brought to you via the star of the upcoming film Life As We Know It and former Grey’s Anatomy doc (and thorn in the side of the show’s producers) Katherine Heigl.

Remember kids, smoking isn't glamorous - even if the cigarettes are fake

The actress appeared on Monday’s “Late Show with David Letterman” touting an electronic cigarette called a “smoke stick.” {NYDailyNews}

Electronic cigarettes are apparently the latest trendy gadgets for smokers trying to quit. The official brand name for one is SmokeStik, and according to the Web site for the product, it works by recreating the entire smoking experience, including an exhaled “smoke-like vapor,” so would-be quitters do not feel as though they are missing out on their cigarette breaks. Apparently the SmokeStik (or eCig) contains no tobacco or tar and is free of over 400 other chemicals in traditional cigarettes that are known to cause cancer. It is also produces no ashes or stubs.

Here is where the SmokeStik loses us: Liquid nicotine, propylene glycol and food grade flavorings are heated up by the gadget’s battery to create a mist for the user to inhale and exhale. We do not understand how it is completely harmless for the smoker as he or she is still inhaling nicotine. In fact, he or she is also still exhaling nicotine as well, making it harmful and annoying as second-hand smoke too. It certainly seems much safer than a traditional cigarette, but if the goal is to quit using nicotine entirely, the SmokeStik does not seem like the best option.

Perhaps the product is meant to work like a nicotine patch, which puffers trying to kick the habit wear to gradually wean their bodies off of the substance. In this case, the SmokeStik should come with some sort of instructions on how to slowly lessen usage to fully quit smoking. The brand’s Web site, however, touts it as a permanent replacement for traditional cigarettes.

The SmokeStik Web site also contains phrases such as “appears safe” and “more extensive experimental trials are needed.”

SmokeStik is not the only brand offering electronic cigarettes, and some versions of the product claim to be nicotine free.

If you are thinking about trying one out, however, you should know that the Food and Drug Administration has not evaluated any eCigarettes for safety and effectiveness but found in limited studies that some electronic cigarettes claiming to contain no nicotine did in fact include the substance. {FDA}

The FDA also just announced this month that five American companies, including E-CigaretteDirect LLC, Ruyan America Inc., Gamucci America (Smokey Bayou Inc.), E-Cig Technology Inc. and Johnson’s Creek Enterprises LLC, have received warning letters for violations including unsubstantiated claims and poor manufacturing.

The governmental organization also worries that young kids may think eCigarettes are a way to look cool without the harmful effects of smoking, but the nicotine in the products may still lead to addiction.

What is most bothersome about this situation is that Heigl and Letterman made light of the product, and many desperate-to-quit smokers may buy these gadgets without knowing the risks. Heigl’s late night puff with Letterman may have looked cool, and it sure was better than if she had lit up a traditional cigarette, but the actress would do better to call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or go to smokefree.gov for sound advice on how to quit smoking.

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