No fire, no smoke, no federal rules

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Eric Martinez, radio-television-broadcasting freshman, smokes a coffee-flavored electronic cigarette Oct. 2.  Michael Peters

Eric Martinez, radio-television-broadcasting freshman, smokes a coffee-flavored electronic cigarette Oct. 2. Michael Peters

Electronic cigarette use doubles among minors.

By Paula Christine Schuler

pschuler1@student.alamo.edu

The Centers for Disease Control reported the percentage of minors using electronic cigarettes more than doubled in one academic year. In a report issued Sept. 5, the CDC released data from a study of middle school and high school students performed during the 2011-2012 school year.

The CDC reported the percentage of e-cigarette users among sixth to 12th graders more than doubled from 3.3 percent to 6.8 percent. High school students who self-reported using electronic cigarettes, or smokeless cigarettes, indicated 7.2 percent never used conventional cigarettes and 80.5 percent said they currently smoked tobacco.

While at a distance, e-cigarettes look the same as the tobacco version, there are several big differences up close.

Electronic cigarettes do not burn, so they smell different and are allowed indoors while tobacco is not.

Broadcasting freshman Eric Martinez said he started using it to help him reduce tobacco use and was surprised by the results.

“My teeth got whiter,” he said. “I didn’t have to waste time going outside. I didn’t smell like a real cigarette.”

Martinez also said he felt healthier. “I like it because I can use it places. Like I can’t smoke a cigarette at a bar,” he said. “It’s a good conversation starter.”

“Vaping” is a term coined by users to describe inhaling vapors from an e-cigarette.

Randy Sterling, owner of Thanks for Vaping, said the device uses battery power to heat nicotine liquid into a vapor.

He said the fluid contains flavoring and one of two chemicals, propylene glycol or glycerin, ingredients approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in food, cosmetics and personal care products. Sterling said he has not heard any complaints of side effects, but he knows many who have successfully quit tobacco.

Health advocates who promote clean food and healthy lifestyles, say propylene glycol is unhealthy and note its use in antifreeze as evidence it is unsuitable for consumption.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C., publishes a list of consumer alerts for food additives. Communications assistant Ariana Stone said the organization focuses on nutrition and food safety policies. She referenced a page on the CDC website that gave glycerin and propylene glycol a green light as a safe food additive.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration states, “Propylene glycol is metabolized by animals and can be used as a carbohydrate source. Propylene glycol can be ingested over long periods of time and in substantial quantities (up to 5 percent of total food intake per day) without causing frank toxic effects.”

The FDA publishes a list of known dangerous chemicals in tobacco. To date, the list mentions 93 chemical substances, including arsenic, ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde, lead, mercury, nickel, nicotine and phenol, some known as carcinogens.

Another difference between smoking and vaping is the federal government does not regulate e-cigarettes, but this may change.

President Obama signed legislation granting the FDA authority over tobacco as a drug, but this authority does not mention nicotine specifically. The FDA is proposing expansion of its authority to include e-cigarettes.

Meanwhile, vapers say the reusable devices save them money.

Nicotine-free liquids are an option for quitters who have kicked the nicotine habit but not the physical habits, such as holding something like a cigarette or drawing smoke from a cigarette and inhaling.

Thevapebook.com refers to tobacco cigarettes as “analog” and teaches visitors the dangers of handling nicotine and how to make their own “e-juice” and offers dozens of flavors, including almond toffee, apple sour, coffee, chocolate and lemonade.

Vaping allows the user to control the nicotine level, which can be reduced and even eliminated without reduction in the physical activity or kinesthetic sensation of smoking. Quitters can choose to fight one habit at a time, addiction or physical habits.

The e-cigarette’s invention is credited to Herbert A. Gilbert, who patented a smokeless tobacco device in 1965 because he believed cigarettes were harmful. The device did not make it to the mass market until Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik was motivated to find a smokeless cigarette after his father died of lung cancer. The first mass production of e-cigarettes began in China in the early 2000s. The device was introduced to Europe in 2006 and then the U.S.

On its website, the FDA uses a warning tone while questioning the safety or dangers of e-cigarettes. The FDA holds the position there are no specific studies yet, and more than 400,000 Americans die annually from illnesses caused by tobacco use.

So far, vaping seems like a win-win for tobacco cessation efforts, but, the results remain to be seen for e-cigarette use over the long-term. The FDA and CDC are encouraging caution.

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