When public smoking died off one bar and restaurant at a time, public smokers were left with two options: stay home and smoke or go out and abstain.
It didn’t take long for entrepreneurs to figure out how to get around that problem.
E-cigarettes entered the market originally as a tool that was supposed to help smokers stop smoking by allowing them to cut back on nicotine slowly or remove nicotine all together while still providing the feel of smoking. Rather than tobacco, the gadget produces a vapor for the user to inhale, saving those around him or her from being harmed by second hand smoke.
Because of these facts, proponents tend to tout them as harmless. However, not everyone agrees. A recent article in the New York Times cites a growing danger tied to accidental poisonings from the liquid used to refill the contraptions, noting that the liquid is toxic, unregulated, unexamined and almost endlessly available to anyone who seeks it.
“[L]ike e-cigarettes, e-liquids are not regulated by federal authorities. They are mixed on factory floors and in the backrooms of shops, and sold legally in stores and online in small bottles that are kept casually around the house for regular refilling of e-cigarettes,” writes Matt Richtel. Richtel then recounts the over 1,300 poisonings reported to the National Poison Data System, of which over one quarter required hospital trips.
A large section of these poisonings involved children, and that’s not surprising. Because there is no regulation of the liquid used, there is no clear understanding of what is in each vial, container or bottle, what the levels of chemicals and nicotine used actually are, or if it is properly labeled and adhering to the standards on the label. For minors, who are smaller than adults, what could be absorbed safely or with minor illness for an adult could cause a child serious damage.
That’s worrisome especially because it appears to be more and more children who are being drawn to these e-cigarettes. According to WebMD, a growing number of teens and younger children are seeking out e-cigarettes, in part because they can be easier to use due to flavoring, some of which even tastes like candy. “The number of middle school and high school students who’d tried the candy-like flavors of e-cigarettes doubled between 2011 and 2012. About 1.78 million U.S. students had tried e-cigarettes as of 2012,” reports WedMD. And despite e-cigarettes allegedly being a way to stop people from smoking, in this case it appears to be leading those new smokers into trying the real, tobacco burning types. “A study published earlier this month shows that middle school and high school students who smoke e-cigarettes also are more likely to smoke tobacco cigarettes. While that doesn’t mean e-cigarettes lead kids to smoke tobacco cigarettes, it does show a strong link between the two habits.”
According to the Today Show’s health report, e-cigarettes do eliminate “more than 60 cancer-causing chemicals found in tobacco smoke.” But in exchange for that benefit, “they do contain toxic ingredients such as diethylene glycol (found in anti-freeze) and propylene glycol (a lung irritant found in fake smoke machines).”
Are e-cigarettes then too dangerous a product to keep on the market? Not necessarily, but one step to making them safer would be to ask the FDA to provide oversight, such as testing to see exactly how harmful they are, the long term effects of ingesting these chemicals, and quality assurance to ensure that the amount of each ingredient is listed on the label, and that the label accurately reflects what is in the liquid purchased.
For some reason, although the FDA has agreed to regulating the product, it hasn’t. Now, it’s time to demand they stop dragging their feet. If a chemical is toxic, isn’t it in everyone’s best interest to know exactly how much of it they are inhaling?
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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