April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
If you are a smoker, you know that watching someone else light up can give you the urge to smoke as well. Smoking seems to be as much a psychological and social addiction as it is a physical one. How do electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) fit into this pattern?
In the first study to investigate the behavioral effects of exposure to e-cigarettes in a controlled setting, a team of researchers from the University of Chicago has found that observing e-cigarette use increases the urge to smoke in young adult smokers who use regular, combustible cigarettes. The findings, published online in Tobacco Control, reveal that the elevated desire to smoke is just as intense when observing e-cigarette use as when observing combustible cigarette use.
“E-cigarette use has increased dramatically over the past few years, so observations and passive exposure will no doubt increase as well,” said Andrea King, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Chicago, in a recent statement. “It’s important to note that there could be effects of being in the company of an e-cigarette user, particularly for young smokers. For example, it’s possible that seeing e-cigarette use may promote more smoking behavior and less quitting.”
Electronic cigarettes work by delivering nicotine by way of a heated solution of compounds and flavorings. The resulting vapor, which closely resembles the smoke of regular cigarettes, is inhaled by users. Previous studies have examined the health effects of e-cigarette vapor. Until now, however, none have investigated the visual effects.
[ Watch the Video: Seeing E-Cigarette Use Encourages Young Adult Tobacco Users To Light Up ]
King’s team recruited 60 young adult smokers who were told that their responses to a variety of societal interactions were being assessed. Each participant was paired with an actor who would smoke either a regular or e-cigarette during a conversation. The participants’ urge to smoke was measured at multiple points before and after this interaction.
The observer’s desire to smoke both regular and e-cigarettes was shown to increase significantly. The team found that the urge to smoke a regular combustible cigarette was equally as strong after observing either e-cigarette use, or combustible use. On the other hand, the desire to smoke an e-cigarette did not increase after observing regular cigarette use. To mimic hand-to-mouth behavior for a control, the actors also drank from a bottle of water while engaging in conversation with the participants. In this scenario, no discernible increase in desire for either regular or e-cigarette use was found.
“Whether participants were exposed to someone smoking a combustible or an e-cigarette, the urge to smoke a combustible cigarette was just as high in either condition,” King said. “We know from past research that seeing regular cigarette use is a potent cue for someone to want to smoke. We did not know if seeing e-cigarette use would produce the same effect. But that is exactly what we found. When we re-tested participants 20 minutes after exposure, the desire to smoke remained elevated.”
The researchers say that more study is needed due to the rising sales of e-cigarettes nationwide. This study should focus on the health ramifications for users, as well as the passive, secondary effects on observers.
“This study was our first investigation, and there are still many unanswered questions. We don’t know about the effects on a non-smoker or a person who has quit smoking or if responses are different for the various e-cigarette brands,” she said. “But if the results do generalize and we show this in other groups, it’s important to consider policy going forward in terms of reducing harm for both users and observers of e-cigarettes.”