A prominent anti-smoking researcher at the Mayo Clinic has questioned the sanity of electronic cigarette users, stating that "one of the solutions that the nicotine and the e-cigarette is dissolved into is called propylene glycol which is a cousin of antifreeze and why anybody would want to puff on something and put that in their mouth is amazing."
The comments were made during an interview with Dr. Richard Hurt, founder and director of the Mayo Clinic's Nicotine Dependence Center, and are posted on the Mayo Clinic's web site.
In the same interview, Dr. Hurt stated that "we don't have any evidence at all that they [electronic cigarettes] help people to stop smoking."
The Rest of the Story
I find it unfortunate that the Mayo Clinic is questioning the sanity of millions of smokers who are so deeply concerned about their health that they are trying to use a novel method to quit smoking -- one which is much safer than smoking and which has been shown to be at least as effective as nicotine replacement therapy.
Shouldn't ex-smokers who have successfully quit using electronic cigarettes be congratulated and applauded (and encouraged to remain smoke-free) rather than chastised as being insane for using a "cousin to antifreeze."
The Mayo Clinic statement's referral to propylene glycol as a "cousin to antifreeze" is extremely misleading. Unlike the main ingredients in anti-freeze
- ethylene glycol and diethylene glycol - the chemical found in
electronic cigarettes, propylene glycol, is generally regarded as safe.
As we all know, anti-freeze is toxic and the reason for this is that
both ethylene glycol and diethylene glycol are highly toxic.
In contrast to ethylene glycol and diethylene glycol, propylene glycol
is not toxic. In fact, it is a common ingredient of household medical
products such as cough medicines and it was once used commonly in asthma
Should we have advised patients prescribed those inhalers that they were using a drug that was a "cousin to antifreeze"?
Should we advise patients who use cough medicine that they are ingesting a "cousin to antifreeze"?
The truth is that the main ingredients in most anti-freeze are ethylene
glycol and diethylene glycol. This is why anti-freeze is toxic. For
example, the ingredients in Prestone anti-freeze are:
1. Ethylene glycol; and
2. Diethylene glycol
Ethylene glycol is the main ingredient used in most major brands of anti-freeze. Propylene glycol is used in some anti-freeze, but those products are non-toxic. In fact, that is the reason why propylene glycol is used.
The unfortunate part of this story is not simply that the Mayo Clinic is disseminating misleading information. The most unfortunate aspect
of the story is that because of this misinformation, many ex-smokers
who have quit successfully using e-cigarettes may well switch back to
cigarettes out of fear that they are inhaling toxic anti-freeze.
Not only does the Mayo Clinic statement mislead the public about the toxicity of electronic cigarettes and malign the integrity of ex-smokers have successfully quit smoking using these products, but it also disseminates false information about whether or not there is evidence that electronic cigarettes can help some smokers quit.
The statement claims that there is not "any evidence at all" that electronic cigarettes help people stop smoking. However, there are literally thousands of smokers who have quit smoking
successfully using electronic cigarettes. We know this from a
combination of evidence; including testimonials from individual users,
survey evidence, sales data, focus group data, and most recently,
clinical trial results. We don’t yet know exactly the proportion of
smokers who are able to quit successfully using electronic cigarettes,
but at a minimum, the use of these products appears to be at least as
effective as traditional nicotine replacement therapy.
So to claim to the public that there is not "any evidence at all" is, in my view, fraudulent.
The rest of the story is that the Mayo Clinic is not only misleading smokers, but in my opinion it is also fraudulently disseminating information that is intended to deter smokers from quitting using electronic cigarettes. This is tragic, because although the Mayo Clinic encourages smokers to use NRT and drugs instead, the reality is that most of the smokers who have used or are contemplating using electronic cigarettes are smokers who have tried and failed with these "approved" therapies. Telling them they have to stick to the same methods that have failed in the past is tantamount to telling them to remain smokers.