Taranaki man ready to quit smoking signs up for clinical trial studying electronic cigarettes
When he runs into a burning building with an oxygen mask on, Ryan Moss feels like a hypocrite because he's filled his lungs with tobacco smoke for 17 years.
The Opunake man volunteers for St John ambulance and the town's fire brigade and has seen firsthand what long-term smoking can do.
"I've seen the cancers. I've dealt with people who can't breathe, and some of the people weren't as old as you'd think," he said.
"You know that they've been a smoker - you can just sort of tell. That really hit home for me."
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The 38-year-old is taking part in a new clinical trial researching whether electronic cigarettes can help smokers ditch the tobacco product and thinks it may be the answer he has been looking for.
Moss tried to quit four times before the trial. He attempted to wean himself off, he tried "cold turkey", he took pills that would make him sick to his stomach, and he tried patches and gum.
But none of it worked.
Moss' kids would warn him that he would die, or said he stunk when they hugged him. He said he would watch as friends and colleagues who smoked were diagnosed with cancer.
But he just couldn't stop smoking, Moss said.
Now half-way through his three month trial, Moss said he feels he won't pick up another cigarette.
"I feel different mentally about it now. I don't want to smoke. I don't miss it," he said.
"It's a good feeling knowing I don't want a smoke now."
The trial is being run by researchers at the National Institute for Health Innovation through The University of Auckland, who are looking to see if e-cigarettes and nicotine patches helped people who smoke tobacco to quit.
E-cigarettes are electronic devices that let the user inhale nicotine with less harmful chemicals found in tobacco smoke, lead researcher and associate professor Natalie Walker said.
She said the devices contained water and a non-toxic food additive, also used in asthma inhalers, or vegetable oil while nicotine can be added.
When heated the liquid forms a mist and can be breathed in, which is commonly referred to as 'vaping'.
The Health Research Council has funded about $1.2 million for the three year trial, which has tasked researchers to randomly allocate 1800 people in one of three groups: nicotine and patches, nicotine patches and nicotine-free e-cigarettes, or nicotine patches and e-cigarettes with nicotine.
Marewa Glover, associate professor at Massey University, said there were several aspects that built a dependency to nicotine and a "whole cascade of reactions in the brain" while smoking nicotine.
It can stimulate the brain, calm nerves or help with sleep, she said.
But Glover insisted smokers shouldn't feel pressured to give up nicotine, rather find another way to obtain it.
"The problem is the way people have been getting their nicotine," she said.
"Nicotine isn't the problem, it's the smoking."
Glover said nicotine was currently being studied for its potential use for anxiety disorders and its potential relief of symptoms associated with Parkinson's and dementia.
And the stimulate has been wrongfully demonised.
"We've been encouraged to be very judgmental toward those who have a hard time quitting but we need to support them and understand what's happening in their life," she said.
"People are being killed by tobacco smoking and this (e-cigarettes) is a new technology that would be far safer."