The e-cigarette has been around since 2006 and is marketed as a ‘safe’ alternative to smoking regular cigarettes. The demand for e-cigarettes is booming and expected to top $1 billion in sales in the US this year. The e-cigarette is a slender metal tube filled with liquids containing nicotine and formaldehyde (also found in traditional cigarettes) and various flavorings. The user puffs on the device and a small battery heats the nicotine to release a vapor containing propylene glycol, the same substance found in food, cosmetics and fog machines.
We know they are selling well, just search the internet and you’ll find dozens of ‘e-cig’ businesses. What we don’t know is how safe they are. The cigarettes being promoted as safer than traditional tobacco products and that would seem to be true. But, they do contain nicotine, which is addictive in this form just as it was with its predecessor, the cigarette. And, as Dorothy Hatskuami, Ph.D., the associate director for Cancer Prevention and Control in the Masonic Cancer Center notes, ““We know there are flavorings in these new products and we don’t know what happens when you heat these flavors and ingest them in your lungs.”
There is a lot we do not yet know about the e-cigarettes causing the FDA and at least 40 states’ attorneys general to be concerned. Here is what the FDA has to say: “As the safety and efficacy of e-cigarettes have not been fully studied, consumers of e-cigarette products currently have no way of knowing:
• whether e-cigarettes are safe for their intended use,
• how much nicotine or other potentially harmful chemicals are being inhaled during use, or
• if there are any benefits associated with using these products.
Additionally, it is not known if e-cigarettes may lead young people to try other tobacco products, including conventional cigarettes, which are known to cause disease and lead to premature death. “
The attorneys general sent a letter to the FDA expressing their concerns over the marketing of e-cigarettes. They cite the use of cartoon-like characters, and the fruit and candy-like flavoring used by manufacturers of e-cigarettes as evidence of marketing geared to children.
We cannot seem to get this smoking thing right in this country. Traditional cigarettes are declining in sales in part due to the increased cost and the anti-smoking movement just as the demand for e-cigarettes is increasing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1.8 million teenagers reported trying an e-cigarette in 2012. About 4.7 percent of students said they tried an e-cigarette in 2011, jumping to 10 percent by 2012 — an increase CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden called “deeply troubling” .
Momentum will continue to grow now that the big tobacco companies are capitalizing on this fad. Reynolds American, Inc., will begin selling Vuse vapor cigarettes nationally in 2014. Lorillard Inc., the maker of Newport cigarettes, acquired blue Cigs brand and the Altria Group, best known for Marlboro, launched MarkTen e-cigarettes this past summer. The tobacco companies know a good thing when they see it. “As society is transforming, so must the tobacco industry,” said Reynolds spokesman Richard Smith. “It’s just good business sense.”
Good business sense does not mean, however, that these products have been fully vetted and tested, or that they are safe. Big tobacco is big business and big money, and those folks know how to turn a good profit. There is nothing wrong with that, except when it is at the expense of the safety of consumers. The safety part may still be a bit in flux. Are e-cigs safer than a conventional, tobacco cigarette? As a lay-person, it would seem so, but it likely depends upon what else is in that e-cig.
We have made great strides in turning our youth away from traditional tobacco, but the e-cigarettes are the coolest new thing. People, inlcuding kids, are consuming them without any clear understanding of the potential health risks. Perhaps that is better than smoking a cigarette containing nicotine, tar and other chemicals, but it still may not be a good formula for good health.