Cigarette Alternatives as Smoking Cessation Aid: Fad or Fact?

While awareness of cigarette dangers continues to increase, the act of smoking cessation remains ever-challenging. According to recent surveys from the FDA, only about 8% of adults who tried to quit smoking succeeded for more than a year. Similarly, a report on ScienceDirect reveals that 20% of all relapses were related to cigarette dependencies. These numbers can swell even more in certain demographics like older adults or long-time smokers. Given these statistics, there has been a massive market demand for cigarette alternatives that can help reduce the chances of a relapse. Emergen Research estimates that this industry will be worth over $64 billion by 2032.

Despite all this, though, cigarette alternatives are relatively new technologies. While they do show promise as cigarette smoking cessation aids, there has been a significant amount of buzz focused more on their “trendiness” and online virality. If you want to know whether cigarette alternatives are all they’re hyped up to be or not, read on.

Understanding Cigarette Alternatives

Before anything else, it’s important to understand that cigarette alternatives are a broad term that refers to virtually any implement that soothes a smoker’s cravings. As such, they usually contain nicotine, may be heated, and can sometimes simulate the act of taking a drag from a cigarette.

Some of the most popular cigarette alternatives today are nicotine products. These come in oral and transdermal formats, wherein they emit no smoke but release a steady, controlled dose of nicotine. To illustrate, let’s look at nicotine pouches, which retailer Prilla describes as tobacco-free products that come in a variety of strengths and flavors. These include flavors like mint and citrus and strengths ranging from 4mg to 12mg. The pouches are placed between the cheek and the gums, where they release nicotine into the bloodstream to curb cigarette cravings. One of the most well-known nicotine brands today is ZYN, which has amassed over 700 million views on TikTok using the #ZYN hashtag.

Another highly popular cigarette alternative is vaping. Also called e-cigarettes, vapes make use of flavored liquid that can contain varying levels of nicotine. This juice is then heated using coils within the vape and turned into vapor. Among some brands, vapes also come with disposable components. Because vapes are meant to mimic the action of cigarette smoking, they often come with adjustable airflow controls to help users tailor the experience to be as close to the real thing as possible. While vapes come in different shapes and sizes, many come in “pen” forms. This helps with portability and satisfies the oral fixation that smokers may have. Articles on the NIH state that given the playful packaging, diverse juice flavors, and social media marketing, hashtags with the words #vape or #vapetricks gain significant traction on Instagram.

Are Cigarette Alternatives Effective?

In a nutshell, yes, cigarette alternatives are effective means to wean smokers off traditional tobacco cigarettes. This is because alternatives nowadays can satisfy the needs and dependencies that many smokers look for in cigarettes. For instance, the aforementioned nicotine products can quell brain receptors that may trigger withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms are diverse, ranging from headaches to weight gain, and can cause relapses among many. Similarly, cigarette alternatives can also satisfy emotional associations that make quitting traditional tobacco cigarettes hard. Vapes, for example, can help former smokers socialize with their friends who do smoke without feeling left out. All in all, this is why studies published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews even say that such interventions work well for long-term cigarette smoking cessation.

Having said this, it should be noted that some alternatives only dissuade cigarette use but not smoking, in general. This is a concern mainly held against vapes as there is arguably a lot of overlap between them and normal cigarettes. Note that in both cases, heat and particulate matter are present. Over time, this can still cause respiratory issues. At the same time, vape juices can contain up to a whopping 50mg of nicotine. This is an extremely high dose that can only heighten dependencies. Among some vapes like JUUL, there has also been a pattern of steadily increasing nicotine intensity. This is even partly why JUUL Labs has seen a steady decline. Since juices are usually meant to be swapped out and refilled, many vape users can easily turn back to higher doses of nicotine rather than slowly weaning themselves off.

In closing, while contemporary cigarette alternatives may be trending, their impact on cigarette cessation is solid. That said, they are best used with a doctor’s guidance within a well-rounded cessation program.

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