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Electronic cigarettes and thirdhand tobacco smoke: two emerging health care challenges for the primary care provider

Authors Ware G Kuschner, Sunayana Reddy, Nidhi Mehrotra, et al

Published 1 February 2011 Volume 2011:4 Pages 115—120


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Ware G Kuschner, Sunayana Reddy, Nidhi Mehrotra, Harman S Paintal
Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine, Palo Alto, CA, USA

Abstract: Primary care providers should be aware of two new developments in nicotine addiction and smoking cessation: 1) the emergence of a novel nicotine delivery system known as the electronic (e-) cigarette; and 2) new reports of residual environmental nicotine and other biopersistent toxicants found in cigarette smoke, recently described as “thirdhand smoke”. The purpose of this article is to provide a clinician-friendly introduction to these two emerging issues so that clinicians are well prepared to counsel smokers about newly recognized health concerns relevant to tobacco use. E-cigarettes are battery powered devices that convert nicotine into a vapor that can be inhaled. The World Health Organization has termed these devices electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). The vapors from ENDS are complex mixtures of chemicals, not pure nicotine. It is unknown whether inhalation of the complex mixture of chemicals found in ENDS vapors is safe. There is no evidence that e-cigarettes are effective treatment for nicotine addiction. ENDS are not approved as smoking cessation devices. Primary care givers should anticipate being questioned by patients about the advisability of using e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation device. The term thirdhand smoke first appeared in the medical literature in 2009 when investigators introduced the term to describe residual tobacco smoke contamination that remains after the cigarette is extinguished. Thirdhand smoke is a hazardous exposure resulting from cigarette smoke residue that accumulates in cars, homes, and other indoor spaces. Tobacco-derived toxicants can react to form potent cancer causing compounds. Exposure to thirdhand smoke can occur through the skin, by breathing, and by ingestion long after smoke has cleared from a room. Counseling patients about the hazards of thirdhand smoke may provide additional motivation to quit smoking.

Keywords: e-cigarette, nicotine, tobacco, thirdhand smoke, electronic nicotine delivery systems

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