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E-Cigarettes: An Unsafe Alternative

“The wise alternative to cigarettes,” “Take your freedom back,” “rewrite your rules,” “made for use anywhere, anytime” are just some of the advertising slogans used in E-Cigarette commercials.

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) are increasingly becoming available and popular. The tactics of marketing used by tobacco and e-cig companies are reaching monumental heights since these devices are completely unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This has resulted in millions of dollars being targeted on television commercials and radio spots with celebrities and even sports sponsorships. The use of marketing on television for cigarettes was banned nearly 50 years ago. The e-cigs brand, Blu eCigs was purchased by Lorillard, Inc. (Newport Cigarettes manufacturer) for $135 million in 2012. According to the New York Times Blu eCigs spent $12.4 million on major media ads in the first quarter of 2013. These E-marketing ads suggest to users the e-cigs are health safe and give smokers the freedom to evade the workplace and restaurant smoking bans and other locations that have marked the definition of smoking over the last decade.
E-cigs initially emerged into the cigarette market ten years ago in China. They subsequently entered the worldwide market and in the United States by 2007. E-cigs use cartridges of liquid nicotine that produce a heated vapor. Nicotine is also used in pesticides and can raise blood pressure and in large doses is proven toxic. Many believe that the heated vapor is completely harmless but this is not necessarily true. The chemicals used to produce the vapor are indeed not completely safe for inhalation and it is confirmed that they contain known carcinogens—agents that cause cancer, including formaldehyde and nitrosamines. Until appropriate studies are completed by the FDA, complete health risks are not known.

The reasons and motivation for using e-cigs vary from one person to another. Some people use e-cigs as an alternative or substitute whey they are in an environment where smoking is banned, such as a public space or indoors, but still use tobacco cigarettes in areas that are unrestricted. This use of both e-cigs and conventional tobacco cigarettes is termed “dual-use.” Most users have a perception that these devices are less harmful that traditional cigarettes and use e-cigs as a cessation tool. There are varying nicotine levels in the e-cig cartridges, so users can control their nicotine intake and even eventually reduce to cartridges that are nicotine-free. However, e-cigs are currently unregulated as cessation devices.

Many people, especially the young, are interested by this new plug in technology. Young smokers are inquiring about e-cigs and “vaping” (e-cigs use of action); they are confused and curious about these products. The young are being inundated by marketing at gas stations, local grocery stores and they are offering give-a-way and discounts for e-cig starter kits. Despite what our children are learning about the dangers of tobacco use, all the tobacco marketing they receive teaches them smoking is a normal thing to do, that it is cool and accessible. Marketing for e-cigs uses the same strategies for products that looks similar to traditional cigarettes.

In September of 2013 a report was released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that stated e-cigs experimentation among U.S. High school and middle students doubled between 2011 and 2012. Not to mention, many of the students who are now using e-cigs have never smoked a traditional tobacco cigarette. This presents a great risk to our youth who are fully aware of the dangers of traditional cigarettes, but remain intrigued and enticed by e-cigs. Prominent concerns include: the risk for nicotine addiction, the negative neurological impact that nicotine may have on adolescent brain development, and the initiation of traditional tobacco cigarette use.

Consequently, as a society, we must question ourselves what the future holds. Just ten years ago these alternative products did not exist but today they are fast becoming easily available and abundant. Immediate action is needed. A handful of municipalities and states have taken the first steps of setting a minimum purchase age of 18 years old, however more needs to be done.

Those living with lung disease such as COPD or asthma, are well known to be susceptible to the effects of inhaled irritants of any kind, not just traditional tobacco smoke. Hence, those with lung disease should avoid any inhaled foreign substances into their lungs whether this is wood smoke from fireplaces, tobacco smoke, bio-mass pollution, vapors from e-cigs, or other known triggers. Actually, the only way to assure “safety” of your lungs is to protect them throughout your entire life. Children take note, don’t smoke anything.

This E-Cigarette conversation is an important one to have in our communities. Share your e-cig feelings and ideas by writing to your local newspaper, elected officials of by calling the C.O.P.D. Information Line at: (866) 316-2673.