Controversy over safety of using e-cigarettes as alternative to conventional cigarettes
After smoking conventional cigarettes for three years, Qian Hao, a Fresno State international student, switched to smoking e-cigarettes to increase his stamina while he practiced jiujitsu.
Hao realized he had difficulty breathing when he practiced jiujitsu, a form of martial arts, while he smoked conventional cigarettes.
“It was really hard to breathe,” he said.
After switching to e-cigarettes, Hao noticed his stamina increased after only one month.
“When I started e-cigarettes, I felt much better during practices,” he said.
Cherise Picou, owner of “Fresno ~ Clovis Vapor, Clovis E-Cig Tasting Bar,” said her customers are cutting back on conventional cigarettes after switching to e-cigarettes.
“I can’t tell you how many customers came back saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I haven’t had a cigarette since I came in last week,’ or ‘I haven’t had a cigarette since I bought these a week ago,’” she said. “It’s exciting because nothing has worked for them in the past. They want to get a backup because they’re worried if their battery quits working, they’re going to run out and buy a pack of cigarettes.”
As the popularity heightens, so does the controversy surrounding it. Despite the claim that e-cigarettes are a healthy alternative to conventional cigarettes, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has neither approved nor conducted sufficient studies on the liquid used for e-cigarettes.
“E-cigarettes are not regulated by the FDA, and so in order for drug products to gain FDA approval, the company has to demonstrate to the agency that it’s safe and it’s effective for its intended use,” said Justina Felix, advocacy manager of Project IMPACT from the American Lung Association.
Felix pointed out that since insufficient studies were made, no one knows what e-cigarettes actually contain.
“As a consumer, we currently have no way of knowing the concentration of potentially harmful chemicals in these particular products,” Felix said.
According to a few FDA studies, a chemical used in antifreeze, called propylene glycol, was found in e-cigarette juices, Felix said. She cautioned that even more unwanted chemicals might be found if an in-depth study was done.
“Do you really want to put something in your body when you don’t know 100 percent what’s in the product?” Felix asked. “Do you want to take that chance and that risk – inhaling something that isn’t regulated?”
The phenomenon that Picou experienced with her customers, using e-cigarettes as a way to quit smoking conventional cigarettes, puzzled Felix. She said people may get the misconception they are smoking something that is much safer than conventional cigarettes.
“For people to say it’s actually helping them—I do kind of find it confusing how that would happen because nicotine is the drug that makes smoking addicting, and that is what e-cigarettes are delivering,” Felix said.
Picou is comfortable smoking her own e-cigarette.
“Cigarettes have over 4,000 chemicals and 69 carcinogens,” Picou said. “So when somebody is ingesting that, is smoking that, you just kind of just have to weigh your options.”
The basic ingredients for the liquids in e-cigarettes are food additives and vegetable glycerine. Nicotine is added in different levels of the liquid, ranging from 24 mg to 0 mg.
Picou’s shop offers a wide range of e-cigarettes and liquid. Liquids purchased from other companies are premixed, containing propylene glycol. The liquids Picou mixed herself do not contain the chemical, she said.
The chemical propylene glycol gives users the “throat hit feeling,” while vegetable glycerin creates the density of the vapor, Picou said.
“They still get to feel like they’re smoking, and the hand-to-mouth habit is getting taken care of,” she said. “A lot of it is in the habit, so if they can take care of the habit, hopefully they can dose themselves down and maintain at 0 mg [of nicotine].”
Picou’s customers usually start off with a nicotine level similar to what they currently smoke and slowly work their way down to a zero nicotine level, she said.
Felix said that e-cigarettes should be treated similarly to a conventional cigarette. People should not be exposed to the emitted vapor because of the potential harmfulness, she said.
“If you have areas that are smoke free and you have designated smoking areas, then I believe e-cigarettes should be treated the same and should not be allowed where conventional smoking is not allowed,” Felix said.
Addressing the issues concerning propylene glycol as a chemical toxin, Picou referred to a study by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. Propylene glycol was actually used to replace the more toxic substance of ethylene glycol and it is “generally recognized as safe (GRS),” she said.
According to the research, propylene glycol is also “used in the food-processing industry as an additive to keep foods from drying out.”
Picou does not encourage non-smokers to try out nicotine-based juices, but she encourages smokers to give e-cigarettes a try.
Picou said that there should be an age restriction of 18 or older to buy e-cigarettes, and she said online marketing might be dangerous because minors can get them. She said it would be safer to keep the sales to actual stores so that customers can be carded.
Fresno State freshman Brenda Maciel feels that it would be better still for smokers to quit than opt for another alternative until e-cigarettes are approved by the FDA.
“I don’t think they [smokers] should just choose another alternative,” Maciel said. “What I think is they should just quit. They should just stop. Right now, they say it’s not bad, but in the future, they can keep studying [e-cigarettes], and they can find something wrong with it.”
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