No smoke, but there could be fire: E-cigarettes might not be the answer

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It’s been 50 years since the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General officially linked smoking with an increased risk for cancer. In the years that followed, any number of measures have been introduced to entice, encourage and aid people in giving up lighting up.

Donna Long listens as Scotty Wolkow, owner of Victorious Vapors on Bobby Jones Expressway, explains how to use her new VAMO V3 e-cigarette in this 2013 photo. Touted as a method to quit smoking tobacco, e-cigarettes carry with them several unanswered health questions.  FILE/STAFF
Donna Long listens as Scotty Wolkow, owner of Victorious Vapors on Bobby Jones Expressway, explains how to use her new VAMO V3 e-cigarette in this 2013 photo. Touted as a method to quit smoking tobacco, e-cigarettes carry with them several unanswered health questions.

A lot of effort has gone into establishing strong messages, rules and regulations surrounding smoking, which have gone a long way toward ensuring people never start smoking. Still, for those who do smoke, science provides an impressive array of products.

For years, companies have stacked the shelves with all manner of remedies aimed at curbing the urge to smoke. Be it patches, gum or lozenges, all were presented as answers to the quitting problem with varying degrees of success.

But none proved quite as popular as the electronic cigarette.

THE FIRST ELECTRONIC cigarettes were introduced in 2004, initially in China and then around the world. In 10 years, they have proved popular not only for people trying to quit smoking, but also as an alternative for those who claim they will never start. In 2014, it is estimated that the e-cigarette business will generate $1.5 billion in sales and from approximately 2.5 million e-cigarette users in the United States.

The question now is: Are they keeping people from smoking, or is this a case of taking one step forward and two steps back?

On April 24, the Food and Drug Administration released a plan to regulate the electronic cigarette industry. The reason: With more than 250 brands, all unregulated, there’s no way to measure the health effect of these devices.

If adopted, the FDA plan would require the industry not only to submit their products for approval; list ingredients on packaging; and cease making health claims without scientific evidence. It also would also ban sales to minors, a federal reinforcement of a law already adopted by most states; ban distribution of free samples; and require health warnings on packaging.

A RECENT STUDY by Nicotine and Tobacco Research, a health journal dedicated smoking-related issue, recently released findings that many e-cigarettes contain formaldehyde – a known carcinogen – in amounts comparable to standard smoke. The truth is, without regulation there’s no way of knowing what e-smokers are drawing into their bodies and what effect that might have.

What is difficult, if not impossible, for the FDA to address through regulation is the societal and psychological effects electronic cigarettes have on the public. Today, there is a stigma attached to smoking. It has taken nearly 50 years, but the idea of lighting up in an office, school or other public place is unimaginable. What was once accepted social behavior has become taboo.

BUT THAT’S NOT the case with electronic cigarettes. Because the vapors produced are regarded as harmless steam, e-smokers have little compulsion to confine their habit to more private environs. As a result, there is a growing acceptance of smoking – or vaping, as it is often called – as permissible behavior. So while pulling out a pack of Pall Malls after an evening meal or before a movie starts has long since been discarded as unacceptable behavior, the firing of the battery on the electronic equivalent has become more acceptable and commonplace.

A recent survey published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2012, approximately 1.8 million middle- and high-school students had tried e-cigarettes.

THERE IS ANOTHER concern. The electronic cigarette has been designed with the same primary purpose as a cigarette: to introduce nicotine into the human bloodstream. What happens, however, to the vaper who determines that the controlled doses offered by an e-cigarette no longer are satisfying that craving? Chances are, many of them will look toward a more efficient delivery system – the traditional cigarette. The CDC survey found that 76.3 percent of students who had tried e-cigarettes in the past 30 days also had smoked conventional cigarettes.

The fact is that after 10 years of unregulated free-for-all marketing of these products, they have become popular and commonplace without the public, government regulators or even the health-care community really having a clear understanding of what the consequences of their use might be. Right now they are regarded as the straw that might break Camel’s back, but it is our responsibility to ensure that we are not trading one problem for another.

(The writer is director of the Georgia Regents University Cancer Center.)

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Riverman1 07/27/14 - 05:32 am
Tobacco Companies Against E-cigs

I'm skeptical because the tobacco companies fund many of these studies. The positive seems to be the e-cig can dial the nicotine down to zero. To say college students who have "smoked" them have also tried regular cigarettes means nothing. Those who smoke are far more likely to try e-cigs in an attempt to quit than the general population. So when I see an illogical statement such as that, I'm skeptical.

Bodhisattva 07/27/14 - 06:21 am
Nicotine and Tobacco Research?

Put out by the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco. Memberrship requirment include, "at least one peer reviewed publication on nicotine, tobacco-control, or a related topic." Catch the "tobacco control" part? Just more of the anti-tobacco, anti-smoking Nazis that want to make sure they can ram e-cigs in their never ending attempt at passing their ultra restriction anto-smoking ordinance in Augusta. Fail, try again. Fail, try again. It always hardly has a waiting time bewteen attempts. Force them to wait a year ot two before they can keep bringing up the same flipping ordinance. The Chronicle managed to leave out that the good Doctor was a co-sponsor of GRU’s tobacco-free initiative, and while the page will no longer load, a Google search brings up, " Dr. Samir N. Khleif, Director of the Georgia Regents University ..... Tobacco-Free Campus Policy and Augusta's Breath-Easy Coalition", the very group that is trying to force the anti smoking ban on private businesses in the city/county. Another accidental omission and slip up Chronicle? Propaganda for the next impending (and never ending until they win) tobacco Nazi attack on the rights on Augustans.

historylover 07/27/14 - 08:47 am
Riverman and Bod

I agree wholeheartedly with both of your comments. I would much rather have someone smoking an e-cig around me than I would a real cigarette. They not only smell better, but I know that person is trying to respect my breathing space and I appreciate it!

oldredneckman96 07/27/14 - 03:51 pm
Tobacco is Tobacco

One word here is strange, the word “acceptance” when talking about e-ciggs should not be in the same sentence. I have never met anyone who accepted anyone sucking these things around them. The stuff coming out of these things it is nicotine and anti-freeze. As to the folks who refuse to believe anything bad about e-ciggs, no one believed it about regular smokes either. Get your nicotine any way you want, smoke it, chew it or dip it, just don’t make everyone else do it with you. Any form of use stinks and is a health hazard to others.

itsanotherday1 07/27/14 - 08:30 pm
The only part of the article

The only part of the article I agree with is regulation of contents so that the consumer is aware of what's in it, and it is consistent from model to model and brand to brand. I understand though that just like everything else the government has their hand in, it won't stop there.

crunchy2k 07/28/14 - 12:59 am
E-liquid is here and it is a

E-liquid is here and it is a way to stop smoking. There are some in the Tobacco Control Industry that don't like a cigarette quiter using nicotine. Their misinformation campaign damage is slowly being undone in Europe, but their false propaganda is making inroads in some US towns. Their campaign is similar to the 1920s prohibition period. They have no scientific reason for their anti-nicotine stance. Nicotine is safe when used in the amounts put into e-liquids. It increases concentration, motor skills, and is a mild calmer. People that use nicotine have a 50% less chance of developing Parkinson's Disease. In the 11 years e-liquid has been on the market, there have been no deaths attributed to it. Rare accidental poisonings are treated like tobacco ingestion. A simple charcoal milkshake is administered with a 2 hour rest.

To look further, I suggest reading 'Nicotine and Health' (2013) by the American Council on Science and Health. It is available Free Online.

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