E-Cigarettes: Another Puff

E-Cigarettes Over break, I was sitting in a coffee shop with my friend Emily when halfway through our conversation she took out a cigarette and simply started smoking.

The act wasn’t surprising: Emily is a seasoned smoker who has been hooked on cigarettes for seven years. But the fact that she was doing it inside caught me off guard. Before I could stop her, I noticed there wasn’t a lighter in sight and the tip glowed with a strange orange light instead of the traditional flickering ember. Smoke billowed out of her mouth, yet the strong, ashtray smell was nowhere to be found.

Emily Ward, who is currently attending Middlesex Community College in Middletown, Conn., is just one of many smokers who have turned to e-cigarettes as an alternative to the real tobacco-based product. Created in 2003 by a Chinese pharmacist, e-cigarettes have taken off in popularity among smokers, causing much controversy along the way.

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to approve e-cigarettes and many fear that the product will entice children to start smoking, those who use it say it has the potential to be a lifesaving and revolutionary product.

According to the FDA, e-cigarettes are comprised of “a rechargeable, battery-operated heating element, a replaceable cartridge that may contain nicotine or other chemicals, and an atomizer that, when heated, converts the contents of the cartridge into a vapor. This vapor can then be inhaled by the user.”

A user buys each cartridge, which holds up to a month of use and screws into the body. While there are different shapes and models, most look identical to a typical white and brown cigarette. The “smoke” the user inhales is mostly water vapor and doesn’t include any tobacco.

Ward, who has been using e-cigarettes for about a month, says they are helping her kick a long-time habit. After struggling with other quitting aids, like nicotine lozenges, Ward learned about Nuvo, a company that manufactures e-cigarettes. Ward has yet to pick up a traditional cigarette since turning to e-cigarettes. It is the longest she’s gone since she began smoking when she was 13 years old. Although it hasn’t been that long, she says she “can already notice a difference in [her] breathing,” is feeling generally healthier and enjoys “being able to smoke inside when it’s 10 degrees and the fact that they’re much less expensive than cigarettes.”

The majority of the e-cigarette market is comprised of people using the device to quit smoking. It contains nicotine but not tobacco, so it is healthier. And unlike nicotine patches and gum, ex-smokers get to keep the aesthetic of smoking. As Ward says, “it looks and feels like smoke.” The nicotine cartridges are sold at different levels, so users can eventually wean themselves onto a cartridge that has no nicotine at all, just water vapor. While she has yet to switch to a lower level, Ward’s plan is to slowly quit altogether.

While this story reins familiar all over the country, e-cigarettes are dogged by two controversies. One is that they could attract younger people to start smoking earlier. Besides regular cartridges, companies like Nuvo also make flavored packs. Instead of tobacco flavored, you could be smoking a chocolate, bubblegum or even coffee flavored cigarette.

Ward, who has tried but doesn’t like the other flavors, doubts that their candy-like taste will entice children.

“I don’t think kids care much about flavors,” she said. “I was 13 when I started smoking, and I wouldn’t have even considered a ‘fake’ cigarette when all of my friends were smoking the real ones. The kids in my high school who smoked just cared about whether their cigarettes were menthol or not, not whether they tasted like chocolate.”

Others disagree, including Tara Riehl, a 23-year-old student who quit smoking in order to set a good example for her young daughter. While e-cigarettes might have fed her nicotine craving, Riehl says she dislikes the idea of e-cigarettes as “it would still be like smoking in her [daughter’s] eyes.”

The FDA has also shown concern about young people starting with an e-cigarette as a gateway for other tobacco products. Because the cigarettes are allowed indoors and are relatively small, innocuous and even shaped like pens or flash drives, it could be seen as going in the face of the bad publicity cigarettes have. And while the electronic versions are safer, nicotine still is a dangerous and addictive substance.

The other source of controversy is what’s in the cigarettes themselves. Upon a limited study, the FDA “found significant quality issues that indicate that quality control processes used to manufacture these products are substandard or non-existent. FDA found that cartridges labeled as containing no nicotine contained nicotine and that three different electronic cigarette cartridges with the same label emitted a markedly different amount of nicotine with each puff.”

The FDA issued a warning letter to the five different distributors in hopes of regulating their production. As of yet, they have not been standardized. The FDA has also not authorized using e-cigarettes as an effective or safe treatment of nicotine addiction.

E-cigarettes are still too new to know how they might affect the rate of new smokers or the health of those quitting. There are currently no laws regulating e-cigarette use on the federal level. Washington State was the first to ban smoking e-cigarettes in public places. Currently similar laws, along with the prohibition of sales to minors, are being considered in other states like Ariz., NY and NH.

source: www.quadnews.net

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