The E-Cigarette Frenzy: Vaporize that Tobacco Addiction?

“I’ve got some bad habits but smoking isn’t one of them!” “Save money and be healthier!” “Use indoors and be socially accepted!”

These are just some of the marketing slogans that Weston’s premium e-cigarette company adopted in early 2014, hoping to appeal to the mass public through trendy, hip, and sexy ads in which celebrities such as Lenny Kravitz and Jenny McCarthy pose in scantily-clad clothing with e-cigarettes in their mouths.

Many tobacco smokers currently face the same dilemma: they want to give up tobacco but do not want to kick their smoking habits. As a result, organizations, such as the FDA and the CDC, are concerned that teenagers and young adults will start smoking e-cigarettes and think they are not suffering the same health consequences as those who smoke tobacco.

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Lately, e-cigarettes have grown in popularity, especially among middle and high school students. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that the number of students using electronic cigarettes more than doubled from 2011 to 2014. According to the CDC, e-cigarette consumption has grown exponentially and could potentially surpass traditional cigarettes in the next decade. Some argue that this increase will lead many to become addicted to regular cigarettes while others argue that this will lead to a decline in addiction [1]. Currently, electronic cigarettes account for nearly 5 percent of the market for tobacco products, challenging the pharmaceutical industry.

The technology behind the device turns nicotine-infused propylene glycol into an inhalable vapor, giving users the façade of smoking the real thing, except for the odor.  E-cigs allow users to control their nicotine intake and save hundreds of dollars each month, since the device has reusable, reliable, and rechargeable components. For smokers who smoke a pack a day, spending around $7.20 for each pack, an e-cig is considerably cheaper, averaging around $1.99 for a nicotine cartridge. Over a course of a year, users save thousands of dollars. Currently, there are more than 250 brands of e-cigarettes available that offer more flavors than a tub of jellybeans does.

Because they contain nicotine and glycol instead of tobacco, e-cigarettes avoid tobacco laws, which means they can be purchased without proof of age. Also by providing a variety of flavors in which customers can choose from, e-cigarettes companies appeal to a wider range of customers compared to tobacco cigarette companies, since they can only sell limited products due to the ban of flavors with the addition of the restriction of sales and advertising to minors. The adolescent brain is vulnerable while developing, which is why cigarette makers target teenage customers by appealing to rebellious, glamorous, and sexy behavior in e-cigarette ads. Most people can inhale e-cigs indoors, even next to their desks, making the product seem much more accessible and appealing than other nicotine products on the market.

This sudden rise in market demand sparks questions: Will the rise in e-cigarettes lead to more smokers, or will it lead to the decline of smokers on a large scale? Will e-cigarettes undo long- standing efforts to deglamorize smoking? Should e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes be subjected to the same guidelines? Is there such a thing as a safer cigarette?

Many researchers have tried to combine multiple smoking alternatives with counseling to try to deter users with no avail. However, Riccardo Polosa of University of Catania and his team found that half of the subjects in his clinical trial had cut their cigarette intake at least fifty percent through the use of e-cigarettes with a quarter, ten smokers, quitting smoking altogether over the course of six months [2]. While this study had a considerably small study group, the results are encouraging, showing that e-cigarettes could be the next most effective tool to reduce global smoking with relatively low costs. Some e-cigarette companies have proactively taken steps to make sure that their product is as safe as can be by joining trade associations and imposing stringent safety protocols [3]. Anti-smoking ideologies should not be able to dictate e-cigarette regulation if it means that it would force smokers to use ineffective cessation methods; rather, evidence based regulation that prioritizes public health would potentially transform the industry and cause an uproar in tobacco harm reduction.

On the other side, the government and anti smoking groups have been warning the public about the dangers of e-cigarettes. This controversy represents the recurring philosophical debate about public health. Last year, the prohibitionists lost a battle when the Food and Drug Administration was overruled in court when trying to stop the sale of e-cigarettes due to FDA warnings that chemicals found in the vapor of e-cigarettes were “toxic” and “carcinogenic” [1]. The American Cancer Society has put forth statements that clearly define their worries that the development of “less hazardous” cigarettes might derail efforts to deter smokers from quitting, supporting “effort[s] to halt the sale of these products.”

The battle between private corporations and government agencies on the subject of e-cigarettes embraces the entire spectrum of issues and advantages. Some European governments such as that of Britain have gone as far as embracing e-cigarettes as a revolutionary deterrent, even dubbing the device as “medicine.” In the future, e-cigarettes and other nicotine products will be to available as over-the-counter medicines [4]. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency said that it would treat e-cigarettes as medicines, “so that people using these products have the confidence they are safe, are of the right quality and work.” The Royal College of Physicians in Britain has also said that e-cigarettes can lure people away from traditional cigarettes, making them a potential smoking- cessation method [5].

While e-cigarettes seemingly are marketed as an alternative to tobacco, that may not be the case. Researchers from the Center for Tobacco Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco, found that people who tried e-cigarettes were six times more likely to try tobacco than those who had never tried e-cigarettes [1]. A federal questionnaire found that while electronic cigarettes users doubled, the number of cigarette smokers declined only slightly.

Nevertheless, forcing e-cigarettes out of sight if it can truncate, even slightly, the blight of six million tobacco related deaths every year, is counterproductive.

References 

[1] Electronic Cigarettes (e-Cigarettes). U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Last modified January 10, 2014. Accessed February 14, 2014. http://www.fda.gov/ newsevents/publichealthfocus/ucm172906.htm.[

[2] Caponnetto, Pasquale, and Riccardo Polosa. “EffiCiency and Safety of an eLectronic cigAreTte (ECLAT) as Tobacco Cigarettes Substitute: A Prospective 12-Month Randomized Control Design Study.” PLoS 8, no. 6.

[3] Farchild, Amy L., and James Colgrove. “The Case for Tolerating E-Cigarettes.” NY Times (New York, NY, USA), December 8, 13.

[4] Briggs, Helen. “E-cigarettes face new restrictions.” BBC News (London, UK), June 12, 13.

[5] Satchell, Graham. “Electronic cigarettes – miracle or menace?” BBC News (London, UK), February 10, 13

Image Credit:

[1] Retrieved September 9, 2014 from: (Creative Commons) Rabin, Ruhani. “Orion v3 and Nzonic v3- Daily Kit.” Flickr. Last modified May 21, 2013, https://www.flickr.com/photos/neoblitz/8805081177/

 

Adele Li is a sophomore at The Harker School. Follow The Triple Helix Online on Twitter and join us on Facebook. 

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