Electronic alternatives to smoking are rising in popularity. Maybe you’ve heard it’s a safer option. Maybe your kids or their friends have been experimenting with vaping. Today we’ve gathered a panel of experts to help find the truth amid the smoke and mirrors.
- CJ Anderson
- Sarah Winslow, MD
- Luis Rodriguez, Oregon Government Relations Director, American Cancer Society Action Network
What are E-cigarettes?
E-cigarettes or vaporizers are small devices that contain a heating element. Liquid cartridges are inserted and the liquid is heated so that vapors can be inhaled. This is presented as an alternative to conventional smoking because it’s a way to get nicotine without some of the other substances found in traditional smoke.
These products are currently not regulated by the FDA, and there’s no federal regulation on any e-cigarettes, vaporizers, or the substances put into them. This means there is no age restriction for buying or using these products. It also means there’s no verification for the contents of the cartridges (you are trusting the manufacturer to include the substances listed and nothing more/less). There are also no restrictions on how these products are marketed to the public, or minors. Oregon has passed state laws to include an age limit (18) for buying these products and their use is held to the same limits as tobacco in the Indoor Clean Air Act.
Because of the lack of regulation or oversight, very little is known about the safety of e-cigarettes. Some studies have shown that these products contain formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen. There is no independent body verifying that what is advertised on the package is what’s really inside. This can mean foreign substances, but it can also mean the concentration of nicotine is not what’s advertised on the package.
Often these products are presented as tobacco alternatives or ways to help people quit smoking. The American Cancer Society and the Cancer Action Network have not endorsed these products as cessation aids because they have not been presented with sufficient data that these products are safe, or that they help people quit their nicotine addictions.
Keep in mind there are FDA and ACS approved smoking alternatives, some of which involve a hand to mouth nicotine delivery system that’s like smoking. Plus, under the Affordable Care Act, these approved methods for quitting smoking are now covered by insurance. If your goal is to quit, why wouldn’t you work with your doctor and use products that are covered by your insurance?
These products are not required to have child-resistant packaging. Last year the state poison control received about 80 calls for children getting into these products. As a result Oregon has passed laws requiring childproof packaging for these products. A single canister for one of these devices can contain a lethal dose of nicotine for a child.
E-cigarettes and kids
Research suggests that 14% of adolescents tried e-cigarettes in 2014 (nearly three times the number from 2013). These products are allowed to have flavors, which are no longer allowed in traditional tobacco.
Is smoking tobacco is better for you than e-cigarettes?
Dr. Winslow is quick to clarify that, while e-cigarettes may contain high concentrations of nicotine and other cancer causing substances, traditional tobacco smoke contains more than its fair share of carcinogens, tar and carbon monoxide. It’s not a matter of one product being better or safer than another. It’s one product with a long history of documented dangers and risks being compared to a completely unregulated product that hasn’t been around long enough for anyone to fully understand the risks.
Do these products lead people to tobacco, or take them away?
The CDC and FDA are now including vaping and e-cigarette use in their surveys on tobacco use. This will help us understand the trends around these products and if (as they claim) they help tobacco smokers move away from this practice and keep new smokers for using tobacco. Some evidence suggests that many smokers simply add vaping to their smoking habit, which may increase their overall nicotine consumption.
If you want to quit smoking be sure to talk to a doctor and learn about the options that are available. Even if you feel vaping is the route you want to go, make sure you have a partner who can support and encourage you in the process.
- Tobacco Quit Line – 1-800-QUIT-NOW – Free counseling and support program for Oregonians who want to quit smoking.
- Dr. Winslow has written a post on her blog called How to be a Quitter. It talks about some of the realities of smoking and shares some tips for helping you quit.
- The American Cancer Society invites you to join in the Great American Smokeout on Thursday, November 19. It’s a day set aside to encourage and support smokers who want to quit.
Author: LivingWell PDX Blog
Adventist Health is committed to creating a healthier Portland community.