To Vape or Not to Vape
The e-cigarette debate smolders locally
Electronic cigarettes — those battery-powered, hard to define, vaporizing “harmless alternative to cigarettes” — have already sparked an intense public debate in the metro and beyond after just six years on the market.
The question is simple: are e-cigs a safe alternative to cigarettes? Answers, however, are diverse, and reliable data is still scarce.
In one local spat over e-cigs, the Overland Park City Council chose the side of caution to amend its Clean Air Act to include electronic cigarettes and restrict purchase and distribution to any and all minors.
Also, Kansas and Missouri are joining the growing list of states regulating electronic cigarettes, including bans on sales to minors.
On the other side, the greater Kansas City area regional manager for Aqueous Vapors, Jason Head, believes that e-cigarettes are all-positive and says they even helped him kick his tobacco habit.
Here’s a look at some of the pros, cons and concerns of the growing, multi-billion dollar industry.
No More Fear of Missing Out
Because there’s no invasive smoke or telltale odor, e-cigarettes can find their way into places traditional cigarettes have long since been banned. That means there’s no missing out on a moment to step out for a smoke.
No more will you be scanning the crowd, looking for a light. E-cigarettes have a rechargeable lithium battery that hooks to a USB port. Charge it in your car, at work — wherever there’s an outlet.
Light on the Wallet
E-cigarettes are said to be cheaper than tobacco cigarettes in the long run. The device has a wide range of prices that can reach $100, depending on the style and the features. But that’s a one-time expense. The e-liquid costs between $4.99 and $24.95 and can last several weeks. That usually beats the cost of tobacco cigarettes with price tags of $4 to $8 per pack.
Some “vapers” (people who use e-cigarettes) use e-cigarettes as a method to reduce their tobacco intake and, in some cases, cease smoking altogether. Although there is little data to support this claim, the argument is that e-cigs resemble a cigarette, provide the deep throat hit and the warmth that usually comes with smoking plus something to occupy your hands — an often overlooked component of the habit. With different levels of nicotine in each e-liquid flavor, ranging from zero to 36 mg, e-cigs allow the user to customize how much nicotine they inhale and how often they refill the cartridges.
Another pro cited for e-cigarettes is the absence of secondhand smoke and, therefore, harm from secondhand vapor. According to a 2012 French study, secondhand vapors emitted from an e-cigarette dissipate on average 11 seconds after it’s been exhaled, while a tobacco cigarette’s smoke can linger for an average of 20 minutes.
Health problems reported by e-cigarette users and documented by the Food and Drug Administration include hospitalization due to pneumonia, allergic reactions, difficulty breathing, disorientation and seizures. Currently, no warning labels are on e-cigs.
By February of this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had received 215 reports of nicotine poisoning in children under the age of 5, a 41.7 percent increase from February 2013. At the Kansas Poison Control Center, 24 cases of e-liquid exposure — 11 of which were children — were reported in 2013. There were no reports in 2012.
The Domino Effect
The Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics reports that adolescents who have vaped are more likely to have smoked regular cigarettes than non-vapers. A concern is that even though cigarette companies claim they aren’t marketing to teens, flavors of e-liquids come in an array of fun flavors — more than 80,000 — and range from peach schnapps to “atomic fireball.”
The aerosol in some brands of e-cigarettes tested in a 2009 FDA study were found to contain chemicals, such as formaldehyde and diethylene glycol (used in antifreeze). Also found were small amounts of tobacco-specific carcinogens called nitrosamines, but they were at levels far lower than those found in tobacco cigarettes.
What You Don’t Know
Experts say one of the biggest concerns is a lack of scientific data. E-cigarette users aren’t fully aware of what they’re inhaling and whether the prolonged usage has long-term effects. Until recently, e-cigarette manufacturers were not required to post a list of the chemicals or ingredients they use.
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