E-cigarettes and the public's health

GUEST EDITORIAL

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In Public Health we work to encourage people to stop smoking or not begin in the first place. Examples of this include education, working to create smoke free zones, and conducting compliance checks at our local tobacco retailers to prevent access to youth.

Today in Grant County and throughout the United States, smoking tobacco remains a leading cause of premature illness and death. Currently in Grant County 16 percent of adults smoke tobacco and 17 percent of 12th graders have reported smoking in the past 30 days.

So what about e-cigarettes? Are e-cigarettes the solution to our communities' smoking addiction? For public health the answer is no. We are concerned about what we have learned about e-cigarettes and even more concerned about what we do not know.

Proponents of e-cigarettes argue that their product is "better" than regular cigarettes because they do not contain tobacco and do not generate smoke, but a vapor. The vapor which is inhaled and enters our environment comes from synthetically made liquid and contains nicotine. Nicotine is a drug, just like its chemical equivalent in nicotine gum. But unlike nicotine gum, e-cigarettes have no health regulations, guidelines on how they can be sold and marketed, or where they may be used. Even more concerning, well-designed studies on the individual and community health effects of e-cigarettes are lacking.

At the same time we see e-cigarettes as perfectly designed and equally well marketed to children. While Washington law makes it illegal to sell e-cigarettes to minors (RCW 26.28.080), it does not include compliance checks or funding for enforcement. The device's sleek appearance coupled with flavor varieties is uniquely geared to appeal to children's tastes. Flavors such as bubblegum and cotton candy for example, are available.

E-cigarettes have not been successfully tested as a method to quit smoking. Despite claims and personal testimonies, the strong science is not there and the FDA has not approved these devices to join the seven FDA approved medications for quitting smoking. Some current smokers hoping to quit use e-cigarettes, but no good evidence exists to prove that it will actually work. Often, e-cigarettes end up as a bridge between moments when they can light up a real cigarette, furthering their addiction. We recognize that quitting smoking is not easy. If you really want to quit smoking, consider calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW or talk to your physician.

What we do not know about e-cigarettes is troubling. With the variety of recipes and manufacturers of e-liquids, it is disturbing that there are no standards, no testing, and no labeling requirements. Your guess is as good as ours as to what is in the e-liquid, including what other unnatural chemicals have been added, or what is the nicotine concentration.

There are no requirements for child proofing cartridges (like on medications) to prevent children from drinking these liquids. Children are ending up in emergency rooms with nicotine poisoning due to consumption of e-liquids. In 2013, there were dozens of calls to the Washington Poison Center for e-cigarettes or liquid nicotine.

While picking up a cigarette or e-cigarettes is a matter of choice, the health consequences of breathing second hand vapor is unknown because we do not know what is in the e-liquid. However, we do know the vapor is more than water. Several locations in Washington have banned the use of e-cigarettes in public places just like regular cigarettes to protect innocent bystanders from breathing in these vapors.

If you are looking for a way to free yourself of big tobacco companies' grip by using e-cigarettes, think again. The three largest cigarette companies are manufacturing and selling e-cigarettes. No matter how it is delivered, nicotine is still a highly addictive, fast acting, and harmful drug, damaging to your arteries, heart, and brain. The tobacco companies still want the slice of your money by peddling you one of the most addictive chemicals known to man in a clever way.

To those considering e-cigarettes, we ask you to do your research and support keeping them out of the hands of children. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid e-cigarettes because nicotine is known to be harmful to the unborn child. To those who have made the choice to use e-cigarettes we still ask that you do your research and make every effort to avoid exposing others to the vapors.

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