E-cigarettes: Healthy Alternative Up In Smoke?

Ever since the 1600’s, tobacco has been consumed through the form of a cigarette. While cigarette smoking remains popular to this day, it is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention more than 16 million Americans experience diseases related from smoking such as asthma, heart disease, and cancer. Nicotine is the main chemical in tobacco that makes it a stimulant substance while being highly addictive. Tobacco also composes of more than 4000 other compounds with a sizeable amount of them being toxic and carcinogenic consequentially producing 480,000 deaths annually in America. In hopes to curb the addiction, smoking cessations has been invented to ingest nicotine through alternate forms such as chewing gum or patches. An electronic cigarette, also known as “e-cigarettes”, is another relatively new substitute and continues to grow in popularity today. However since it is new, most users may not be aware that there is no scientific evidence that truly say that e-cigarettes are completely safe. I feel that although this could be a healthier alternative, awareness about this issue should be spread immediately before this turns into another leading cause of preventable death in America.

The current $2 billion electronic cigarette industry has been introduced to the American market in 2007 and it has been promoted as a socially acceptable alternative. They appear to look like everyday items such as pens, USB sticks, or even an actual cigarette. The device operates by using a battery that heats a chemical mixture containing nicotine, propylene glycol, and flavoring. Since it does not ignite actual tobacco on fire, users are inhaling vapor instead of smoke which highly decreases the chance of breathing the carcinogenic compounds found in normal cigarettes. Although it may not be intentional, these electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) are offered in flavors that attract adolescents. Flavors such as lychee, gummy bear, and grape are spiking the rates of teens trying these products. Critics fear that minors can increase the addiction rate at an early age, while also increasing the chance of a starting a cigarette habit.

As ENDS continue to pick up steam, more study and research are going into this matter. Senator Richard J. Durban, Democrat of Illinois, and Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, led an investigation of which the findings were published on April 14th of 2014. They concluded that the major producers target young people as their marketing technique by giving away free samples at music and sporting events and promoting their product on radio and at youth-oriented events. The report surveyed nine major companies although one of them did not respond back. In 2012 and 2013, producers such as Altria, R.J. Reynolds Vapor Company, NJOY, Eonsmoke, LOGIC, VMR, Lorillard, and Green Smoke participated in a total of 348 sponsored events where they would give away free samples. It was also reported that the events were geared toward youth because it was showcased at music concerts, parties, and motor sports competitions. Tobacco control advocates have also been criticizing the new and popular Blu e-cigarette company. It was perceived for their product to try and appeal to teenage boys because it had been featured in Sports Illustrated magazine with women in bikinis. According to the inquiry six e-cigarette companies support some form of regulation, such as restrictions on the sale and marketing of e-cigarettes to children and teenagers, a ban of usage of television to market e-cigarettes, a prohibition on characterizing flavors, restricting online sales, and regulation of e-cigarettes at the point of sale.

According to an article from USA Today published on April 24th of 2014, The Food and Drug Administration released the first ever proposal in history that will federally regulate the sales of ENDS. Up until that date, e-cigarettes did not have any age restrictions and so minors could easily buy merchandise from retailers or online. However, 28 states have made regulations and of those states, Alabama, New Jersey, and Utah set the minimum age limit to be 19 years of age. If approved, a reviewing process for products of every electronic cigarette company will be required if they would like to keep their business running.  This idea wasn’t favored by E-cigarette companies or anti-tobacco advocates because it will delay companies from growing while slowing down technological advancements for people who are trying to quit tobacco use.  Even though these restrictions exist, The FDA did not mention any regulations towards the methods of companies advertising their product or any flavoring limitations. Those rules eventually could come, FDA officials say, but only after there is scientific basis for broader regulations. Matthew Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids says that it is “inexcusable” that the FDA had taken years to take action. “They can’t move forward at the same pace that they have been moving and do their job protecting public health,” Myers said. “We can’t waste another five years; this cannot take that long. There is a moral and public health imperative for them to treat this with the urgency it deserves.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that in 2012 more than 1.78 million middle and high school students nationwide has tried electronic cigarettes and the rates are still increasing. With that being said I agree with Myers’ sense of urgency on this issue. That statistic does not even include adults and that many people are being exposed to this tobacco cessation. If scientists find something deadly within the nicotine solution, then there may be horrible consequences for users.

As Myers mentions, research needs to advance as soon as possible because emergency calls relating to poisonings are increasing. According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), poison centers involving e-cigarettes went from happening once a month in September 2010 to 215 in February of this year. The majority of the calls were involving children who were age 5 and younger while 42 percent involved people age 20 and older who either ingested the liquid nicotine or absorbed it through their skin. Medical experts say that due to high concentrations of nicotine, a small amount of liquid can be deadly especially for children. According to an article from The Guardian, poisonings are also quickly rising in the UK. Although their rates are not as high as the America’s, governments such as in England and Sweden are starting to implement their own regulations to prohibit sales to minors. The problem about e-cigarettes is that it has a social status of being the solution to a safer nicotine alternative. Adults who either have kids or are around them need to realize that you cannot be careless about leaving the nicotine liquid within their reach. Anyone in possession of the substance that are near children need to treat the liquid just like any other toxic household cleaner and so it is vital to always safely store it away from children. It is more difficult to have children stay away from it since the flavoring is so appealing. This is why I think that statements made from the FDA could help people be more skeptical toward their new habit. The promotion of safe practices could be sparked which will ultimately decrease poison rates.

Since the health impacts from extended use of e-cigarettes are not certain, I find it alarming that it is deemed as the first satisfying alternative of cigarette smoking. Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, say that the e-cigarettes have a “buyer beware” status. He says that consumers have no idea what they’re inhaling because e-cigarette makers don’t have to disclose ingredients, test for safety, or adhere to standards. With that being said, I feel alarmed because events that recently unfolded are starting to look like similar events in the past. Technology for the e-cigarette was lacking in the year of the first patent in 1963, and things did not fall into place until 2003 when a Chinese pharmacist started to develop electronic cigarettes with the company called Ruyan. Success quickly spread and as it got accepted into the market, it found success in Europe and eventually in America by 2007. This paved the way for positive studies that would begin to emerge. A study done by Health New Zealand which was funded by Ruyan published its findings which revealed that nicotine solutions contained no questionable chemicals at toxic levels. It also showed e-cigarettes to be 100 to 1000 more healthy than cigarettes.

An article titled “Failed promises of the cigarette industry and its effect on consumer misperceptions about the health risks of smoking” makes Ruyan’s funded study questionable. It reveals that for the past 100 years, cigarette companies have been claiming that smoking cigarettes had not been proven to be injurious to health through 1999. In fact, cigarette manufacturers frequently asserted that their brand of cigarettes were better than other competitors because they would claim that it would be less irritating, milder, and smoother than others. In 1935, RJ Reynolds told customers that Camel cigarettes are so mild that “they don’t get your wind” and that you could “smoke all you want”. In 1946, Brown and Williamson used baseball legend Babe Ruth to endorse Raleigh cigarettes with a promise that no other leading cigarettes are safer to smoke. Babe Ruth could have continued to live his legacy if he ironically did not die from throat cancer. The report also surprisingly says that evidence indicates that senior scientist and executives within the cigarette industry were aware of the risks of cancer from as early as the 1940’s and knew that smoking could cause lung cancer in the mid 1950’s. Although scientific studies started to grow in the 1960’s which show that the chemical agents found in cigarettes could cause cancer, cigarette companies still tried to market their cigarettes as being safe. It was only until the late 1990’s where cigarette companies acknowledged the fact that cigarette smoking is fatal because of the different types of diseases that one could obtain. If e-cigarettes are found hazardous and are marketed as safe for another 50 years, history may repeat itself and millions of people will die.

Electronic cigarettes could have the positive outcome of quitting conventional cigarettes, but people still need to be aware that there are no studies that prove that the nicotine solutions used for vaping is completely safe. Because of this, users should also be cautious of others receiving second hand smoke just like normal cigarettes. Poisoning incidents around the world involving children ingesting the liquid is growing rapidly and so parents need to always practice storing the solutions safely away from children’s access. The FDA is heading into the correct direction with banning under-age sales, but they also need to focus on regulating advertisement methods as well as the promotion for safe use. Users should also be cautious that e-cigarette companies such as Ruyan often fund research projects on the effects of their product. As history shows, major companies in the cigarette industry made similar claims of their products being safe while having deadly consequences to one’s health. Spreading awareness could help speed up the effort into finding out the true facts on how healthy or dangerous e-cigarettes can be, and more importantly avoid potential worldwide fatality rates.

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4 Comments to “E-cigarettes: Healthy Alternative Up In Smoke?”

  1. This is a very interesting article. In today’s society, E-cigs are some of the hottest items on the market. The media manipulates advertisements in order to make people feel as if vaping is ultimately a healthy alternative. I find it disturbing that even though E-cigs have been out for a while now, there are no solid studies that can vouch for the benefits of the E-juices that are being vaporized and eventually inhaled. I completely agree with the delay of further development of E-cigs and feel as if people should aware as to what they are putting into their bodies. It is a shame that companies would rather make a quick buck rather than ensure the health of consumers.

  2. Cigarette smoking should be banned in all public areas – including bars and restaurants. electronic cigarette

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