The more I hear about e-cigarettes, the more they have me worried. And unfortunately, I’m not the only one who’s hearing a lot about these increasingly popular “alternatives to tobacco cigarettes.” In fact, a recent nationally-representative survey found that 40 percent of Americans have heard of the electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) affectionately referred to as “e-Cigs”, teens seem to be quite taken by them, and annual sales this year are shaping up to be a predicted $1 billion. But that’s not all. Here are a few other compelling reasons why I’m worried.
What you see isn’t always what you get. Ask any teen to describe what’s in an e-cig and the likely answer you’ll get is that it’s “just water vapor,” and therefore harmless. For those of you who have yet to pay much attention to e-cigs and don’t yet know what they actually are, let me explain why this is a dangerous misperception. E-cigs are devices – many of which are designed to look similar to cigarettes – that do in fact vaporize appealing-flavored solutions into a mist that can be inhaled into the lungs. But while “water vapor” may be what you see, what e-cig users actually get is a vaporized chemical mixture typically composed of nicotine, propylene glycol and other chemicals. And what we do know is that nicotine can be highly addictive.
What you don’t know can hurt you. Just because e-cigs don’t produce tar or ash like cigarettes do does not mean they’re safe. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO)’s Tobacco Free Initiative states that the potential risks they pose for the health of users remain undetermined, the safety has not been scientifically demonstrated, and scientific testing indicates that there is significant variation in the amount of nicotine and other chemicals contained in each product. Their conclusion, and one that I share: Until e-cigs are deemed safe and effective and of acceptable quality by a competent national regulatory body, consumers should be strongly advised not to use any of these products.
E-cigs are a step in the wrong direction. According to the Legacy Foundation, youth cigarette use declined sharply between the mid-1990’s and 2010, leveled off in 2011, and continued to decrease in 2012. In contrast, the CDC reports that e-cigarette use by minors is rapidly increasing – having doubled between 2011 and 2012. While advocates argue that e-cigs are a “safer alternative” to cigarette smoking, there are no scientifically proven methods for using e-cigs as cigarette replacements. In the meantime, they have me and just about everyone I know who’s involved in promoting healthy behaviors worried because they run the very real risk of initiating new teen e-cig smokers and making smoking cool again.
Looks can be appealing. Speaking of cool – it’s not so long ago that cigarettes were considered cool. In fact, too many movies still portray those who smoke cigarettes to be dashing, daring and desirable. Now enter e-cigs and you’ve got a new and even more appealing high-tech design. Now I’m not just worried that all of the longstanding public health efforts directed towards keeping teens from smoking will go up in smoke, but quite possibly go up in vapor as well.
Jenny McCarthy can be quite convincing. As if the enticing flavors and the convenience and the easy accessibility of sleek new e-cigs wasn’t enough, Advertising Age recently reported that Jenny McCarthy – known for her many years speaking out against childhood vaccination despite nearly two dozen scientific studies to the contrary – has signed on to be the new face of the leading brand of e-cigarettes. And even though tobacco advertisers haven’t been allowed to advertise on TV since 1971, e-cigarette makers now can because unlike their tobacco-containing counterparts, e-cigs are not yet regulated by the FDA. This really has me worried, given that a recent study on the international reach of tobacco marketing among young children confirms that pro-smoking messages delivered through marketing and the media can reach very young children and influence attitudes and behaviors around smoking.
So now that you hopefully agree that I’m justifiably worried, I hope you’ll join me in being proactive about it. Talk to your kids about e-cigs. Find out what they know, what they’ve heard, what they’ve seen. And make very sure they are well-informed – both about what e-cigs are, and about what they’re not!
Originally posted on Omaha World Herald’s Live Well Nebraska