There was a time when it was cool to smoke a cigarette. The look of Hollywood stars, rebels and politicians lighting up was the sign of status. Decades of anti-smoking marketing and thousands of medical stories have made smoking a relic of the 20th century.
Now, it seems that “cool” status has passed on to electronic cigarettes. Health officials are concerned the new technology is seen without risks because it’s tobacco-less.
With e-cigarettes, the lighter and smoke, iconic with cigarettes, have been replaced with a USB charger and vapor.
For those new to vaporizers, there are essentially two types on the market. The companies started off with the original e-cigs that were made to look like real cigarettes, but they have taken on a completely new shape, the vaporizer pen. The new “pen” has made vaporizers popular without the stigma of traditional cigarette smoking.
The make-up of e-cigs consist of an e-liquid delivery system, which holds the e-liquid and an atomizer located at the bottom of the container. The atomizer is connected to the battery so it can heat up and the atomizer has two wicks that stick out into the e-liquid, so that the atomizer can pull in liquid. It then heats up and the liquid is turned into a vapor.
Once the tip of the e-cig hits the smoker’s lips, a button activates the battery and the atomizer heats up, creating a vapor to inhale.
While this new delivery mechanism of nicotine appears safer than smoking, many users may not know exactly what they are inhaling.
Many of the vaporizer liquids are made by shop owners or are home-brew formulas, though their packaging may look as if it is a nationwide brand.
The main ingredients in the liquid are propylene glycol, an organic compound, that can cause perceptible health damage in large quantities, and polyethylene glycol 400, which is used in pharmaceuticals laxatives. This ingredient is key to the vaporizer liquid as it lowers the toxicity but in excessive use can cause nausea and diarrhea.
The e-liquid found in vaporizers varies depending on the brand and maker, and is completely unregulated as of now. Though, the Food and Drug Administration recently proposed regulations for e-cigs, but many rules would be left up to the states like indoor vaping bans and whether or not taxes should be involved. The proposed regulations could take up to a year to take place if the E-cig industry decides to strike back and sue to block the regulations.
So far, one cited major concern with the unregulated liquid is how easy children can get to it. The bright colors and candy-like flavors are two of the changes that might come through new regulations. Poison Control has reported more calls about children drinking the e-liquid than ever before.
A recent report released by the CDC, revealed that there are about 215 calls a month related to exposure to e-liquids, which is mostly kids drinking the e-liquid containing unfiltered nicotine. That was for 2012, there was less than one call a month for 2011, which was before the e-cig industry had its big boom of popularity through its advertising tactics.
Although the battle with tobacco is far from over, it has died down a bit. But the focus has started to slowly move toward electronic cigarettes, as the number of high school and middle school students that have tried an e-cigarette has doubled since 2011, despite ordinances which restrict businesses from selling to minors, according to the CDC.
The director for the CDC, Tom Frieden, called the recent findings “deeply troubling,” because early exposure to nicotine can lead to a lifelong struggle with nicotine addiction.
State and local health departments realize the risk of nicotine addiction from using e-cigs, but as a whole, they say they don’t have the money to launch campaigns that would educate the public.
“Our grant funding doesn’t spell out e-cigarettes,” explained Susan Wheelan, the communication director for the El Paso Health Department. “Because they’re not classified as a Tobacco product and that‘s very concerning.”
Without an official FDA ruling, e-cigarette prevention will go unfunded and health department officials worry people will remain uneducated about the consequences.
Additionally, there won’t be any state regulations until the FDA makes a move, which looks like it will happen soon.
“The Pueblo City-County Health Department has received many calls from community members and business owners about e-cigarettes being used in public places, where smoking is prohibited,” said Sarah R. Bruestle-Joseph, the public information officer for the Pueblo Health Department. “E-cigarettes are a growing public health concern.”
For other Colorado counties, the concern, along with money for education, is yet to be found. When asked about e-cigarettes, the Tobacco Coordinator for the Fremont County Health Department, Roxie La Soya, replied that she didn’t have any information.
“I don’t know anything about electronic cigarettes,” Roxie La Soya explained. “There’s nothing I can do for you.”