By E.J. Kukla | The Washington Post Staff WriterWhen you smoke, you exhale carbon monoxide, a potent carcinogen that can damage your lungs and cause other health problems.
But for some, a nicotine-free electronic cigarette may have a different effect: it helps them quit smoking.
That’s the conclusion of a study published Wednesday in the journal Tobacco Control, which found that the devices help people quit smoking significantly more often.
Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, and Johns Hopkins University found that those who used e-cigs to quit smoking had an average of 16.5 hours of abstinence from cigarettes a month, compared with 8.3 hours for those who did not.
They also found that e-cigarette users had less nicotine than those who didn’t use e-cigarettes.
The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, also found some signs of increased nicotine intake, such as greater usage of e-liquid and other tobacco products.
“E-cigarettes offer a unique opportunity to help people reduce smoking and prevent the development of a new generation of health problems,” said Dr. Jennifer G. Novelli, the study’s lead author.
Novelli is a professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at UCSF.
“I think the idea that e‑cigarettes are somehow going to be like the next-generation tobacco products is a bit premature,” she said.
“We’re seeing a lot of progress in the field of tobacco cessation.”
The research comes as the tobacco industry struggles to make its products more appealing to younger smokers, who are increasingly opting for e-liquids and other products that contain nicotine instead of traditional cigarettes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently estimated that the number of people 18 to 34 who have tried e-tobacco products in the past month has nearly tripled from about 2.5 million in 2007 to almost 10 million in 2012.
The CDC estimates that the prevalence of nicotine dependence among youth who try e-mail and instant messages has nearly doubled since 2007.
E-cigarette use among youth in the U.S. rose from about 20 percent in 2009 to more than 50 percent in 2013.
E.J.-cigarettes are small devices that vaporize nicotine cartridges and nicotine-laced liquid, making them easy to carry and store.
They typically cost between $40 and $80, and the most popular brands include VapingWild, Vape Wild, Njoy, and Joye.
The e-Cigarette has also made its way into mainstream culture.
Last year, a popular TV show, “Breaking Bad,” featured a fictional company that sells e-juice.
In one episode, Walter White and Jesse Pinkman are both hooked on nicotine-rich liquid from an e-vaporizer.
But while many have seen the devices as a potential substitute for cigarettes, others say they’re not.
“It’s definitely an innovation,” said Jennifer K. Miller, a professor of public health at Georgetown University.
“But for those of us who are smokers, it’s a little confusing.”
While some experts say the devices are effective for helping people quit, others have criticized them as a gateway to smoking, an addiction that is more dangerous than regular cigarettes.
“They’re a gateway,” said Richard B. Cohen, president and CEO of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“They’re not going to replace regular cigarettes.”
Miller said it is too soon to tell if e-waste products can actually help smokers quit.
The FDA is still assessing whether e-smoke products are safe for children, and whether they will be regulated as tobacco products, she said, because of the risks of exposure to nicotine.
The FDA said it would continue to review the science on the e-product, which is marketed by Reynolds American Inc., maker of VapeWild, and has received regulatory approval from the FDA.
The agency is reviewing other e-e-cigarette manufacturers.
Cohen said that if e‑cigarette use is increasing among youth, it could be an encouraging sign for the public to embrace the products.
“The public’s appetite for these products is really starting to grow,” he said.
But some worry that ecigarettes are making smoking harder, and may even be leading to addiction.
“This is a huge leap forward for public health, but there’s still so much work to be done,” said Christopher W. O’Brien, an associate professor at Duke University who specializes in tobacco control.
“There’s a lot that we still don’t know.”
In addition to Novell and Miller, the authors of the study include J.C. Schulz, M.A., and James R. Niedermann, Ph.
D. at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The report was supported by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Cancer Institute.
The Associated Press also contributed to this report.