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'Vaping' Escaping Scrutiny

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By Bria McKamey

CAMPBELL COUNTY—Electronic cigarettes have garnered a lot of attention — and a big following — within the past few years. Their popularity has increased even more with the addition of customizable and refillable varieties.

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E-cigarettes run on a lithium battery, are rechargeable, reusable and tobacco-free. They work by using a vaporizing process to heat up a liquid — liquid nicotine. Instead of burning tobacco the way traditional cigarettes do, the liquid nicotine is heated, turned into a vapor and that vapor is then inhaled. The liquid is contained within a cartridge in the e-cigarette and must be refilled regularly by buying a new cartridge or simply refilling an empty one. The amount of nicotine varies depending on the device and how much nicotine you want in the liquid. No tobacco equals no smoke, no odor and no carbon monoxide. Because e-cigarettes are a tobacco-free product, there is speculation as to whether they could possibly be a healthier alternative to regular cigarettes. However, if something seems too good to be true, it usually is — e-cigarettes are no exception.

For starters, even though vapor is the only thing inhaled when using an e-cigarette, that does not mean the vapor is harmless. Compared to traditional cigarettes — which contain chemicals such as arsenic, cobalt and lead — e-cigarettes are manufactured usually with a mixture of propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, nicotine and flavorings; some models use flavorings without the nicotine. The exposure to nicotine not only affects smokers but also those who breathe in the second hand vapors, although the exposure is less compared to exposure from traditional cigarettes. Those who smoke personal vaporizers will still experience a decrease in their lung function and airway resistance, as will those who go the nicotine-free route even though the nicotine-free cartridges may also contain a lower dosage of nicotine, despite their label.

The liquid nicotine in e-cigarettes also can be potentially lethal, even in small doses and is harmful when inhaled. It can be dangerous when ingested or if it comes into contact with your skin and is absorbed — effects can include vomiting and seizures. Small amounts have the potential to kill — less than one tablespoon is lethal to an adult, and only one teaspoon is lethal to a child. Among the calls to poison control centers regarding e-Cigarettes, half of these calls (51.1 percent) were concerning children under the age of 5, according to the Center for Disease Control.

The Food and Drug Administration currently regulates e-cigarettes that are used for therapeutic purposes.

That could be likely to change, however; this year, the FDA has proposed an extension of its authority that would include personal vaporizers under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. If approved, manufacturers would be required to list the ingredients contained in their products for FDA approval before being allowed to distribute them.

Electronic cigarette manufacturers argue that because of the recreational nature of e-cigarettes, they should not be regulated by the FDA the way that other tobacco products are. There is also a lack of consistency with some of the devices during manufacturing: the FDA found cartridges under the same manufacturer could release varying strengths of nicotine.

Regardless of the drawbacks, e-cigarettes have their selling points. Depending on the type of device, most e-cigarettes cost less in the long run than regular cigarettes out of the carton. Most electronic cigarette starter kits will cost anywhere from $30 to $100; variances on price depend on the type and manufacturer. Those who are used to smoking a pack-a-day will spend on average about $1,000 per year compared to about $600 for the equivalent amount in replacement cartridges for e-cigarettes.

For Courtney White, manager of Campbell County’s first vapor lounge, “vaping” has helped her to reduce her nicotine intake. She no longer smokes regular cigarettes, she said. She customized her nicotine intake from the highest dose (24 mg) all the way down to only 3-6 mg — just a level above the nicotine-free e-cigarettes. It only took her one month to decrease her intake, she said.

“I smoked for four years,” White said, “I didn’t even want to quit smoking, but it really works.”

In a paper published last month by the American Academy of Otolaryngology, the use of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) as an aid for smoking cessation resulted in inconclusive evidence despite results similar to those White saw.

There is not enough research done as of now to recommend the use of e-cigarettes over tested and FDA-approved pharmacotherapies such as the transdermal nicotine patch.

Among her customers are many with a desire to kick the habit for good and have forgone conventional methods, others use the e-cigarettes for dietary reasons and a select few are simply “cloud chasers.”

“I know it sounds funny, but for them it’s strictly a hobby,” White said.

The “cloud chasers” are not seeking a fix, only the vapor and quirky flavorings White offers, such as Fruity Pebbles, Jack and Coke and Jamaican’ Me Crazy (a mix of Jamaican rum and vanilla bourbon).

Angie Johnson said that she does not smoke in her house, so the e-cigarettes offer a satisfying alternative.

“I would rather just smoke, but I like the e-cigarettes,” Johnson said. She continues to smoke traditional cigarettes as well, she said.

Johnson works at Murphy USA on Jacksboro Pike.

The gas station sells several different types of electronic cigarettes, including a new digital device called the Vuse that does not need to be recharged.

“It runs on a little computer chip,” Joyce Branam said.

She said most people who come into Murphy USA and buy the e-cigarettes are trying to quit smoking.

“One woman came in and said her husband would snore a lot at night. Once he started using them [electronic cigarettes], he stopped snoring,” Branam said.

The e-cigarettes could provide another possibility to the smoking cessation aids already available, but the FDA is not yet convinced. More regulation and research is necessary in order to determine to what extent e-cigarettes are effective and safe.

“I think they will gradually pick up here, but there will be future debate,” White said.