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VOL. 37 | NO. 44 | Friday, November 1, 2013

What’s next for e-cigarette fans – FDA regulation or business boom?

By Stephanie Toone

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Beaming blue lights in the midst of odorless vapors are setting a smokeless firestorm amongst lawmakers, health officials and the advocates for electronic cigarettes.

The product has sparked federal regulation talks and varying concerns about the health and safety of the smokeless cigarette alternative.

The battery-powered vaporizing devices use a heating element and liquid solution, commonly composed of propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, flavoring, and/or polyethylene glycol – and may or may not include nicotine.

For Dave Pellicane, the flavorful, personal vaporizers have saved his life.

After 20 years of smoking, attempts to quit with nicotine packs and other tobacco cessation options, he tried e-cigarettes. Three years later, Pellicane has never puffed, again. He now prefers vaping - using e-cigarettes.

“The main (reason) was my children. I knew I had to quit,” Pellicane explains. “I felt 100 times better shortly after I started using them. My sense of taste is back. I’m able to breathe better. It’s been better for me.”

In March, he opened an e-juice bar, also known as an e-cigarette bar, in West Nashville called Nashville Vapor, which sells 6 different brands and 70 various flavors.

“I don’t think the e-cig market in Nashville is going anywhere anytime soon. There are too many people who are using these products, people who will tell you amazing stories about how their lives have changed for the better since they began using our products,” he says.

Skip Wilkerson helps a customer with a purchase at Nashville Vapor, a store and e-cigarette bar in West Nashville. Some use the devices to stop smoking.

-- Lyle Graves | Nashville Ledger

Federal and state health officials and lawmakers are pushing for more regulations as the once novice tobacco product climbs in popularity.

Currently, 25 states ban the use of e-cigarettes to minors, including Tennessee. Since the contraptions are indeed “smoke-free,” Nashville business owners are allowed to make their own call on discouraging e-cigarette use. The primary concern for national lawmakers stems from a recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention study, which indicated that e-cigarette use by youth had doubled to 4.8 percent across the country in the span of a year.

Recently, Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper and attorney generals from 40 other states sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg requesting that the agency regulate sales and advertising to minors due to concerns about e-cigarette sales to minors. The e-cigarette flavors, like cotton candy, banana crème pie and bubble gum, target youth, the attorney generals argue.

“Consumers are led to believe that e-cigarettes are a safe alternative to cigarettes, despite the fact that they are addictive, and there is no regulatory oversight ensuring safety of the ingredients,” the letter states. “We ask the FDA to move quickly to ensure that all tobacco products are tested and regulated to ensure the companies do not continue to sell and advertise to our nation’s youth.”

Restauranteurs and hoteliers from across the state are anxiously awaiting a decision from the FDA, says Greg Adkins, CEO and president of the Tennessee Hospitality Association. He has received several calls in the last six months from TNHA members reporting complaints from patrons about e-cigarette use at their hotels and restaurants. The association includes more than 1,600 hospitality members.

“The regulations haven't caught up with the issue,” Adkins says. “The flavored ones have a smell, and they smell up the whole restaurant. It’s a nuisance. We are doing research on the health risks and we plan on forming a policy  by early next year.”

On the whole, e-cigarette industry leaders desire regulation on selling to minors, but the prospect of taxation and limiting use at public places is an unwarranted step,” says Gregory Conley, legislative director for the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA), a non-profit organization representing the interests of e-cigarette users and other alternative smoke-free nicotine products.

CASAA hopes to influence lawmakers to reduce the stipulations that could and, in some cases, have already been placed on the vaping community. Minnesota, the only state that currently taxes e-cigarettes, recently passed legislation to apply a 95 percent wholesale tax on the product. North Dakota, Utah and New Jersey have implemented bans on usage in public places.

“The push against electronic cigarettes by public health groups comes from a well-deserved hatred of tobacco companies, but the reasoning is based on cigarettes killing 400, 000 people each year,” Conley said. “But e-cigarettes do not pose that problem and have been found to pose 1/100th of the health risks of smoking traditional cigarettes.”

Not all health experts are convinced that the smoke-free alternative is healthier than traditional tobacco products.

Metro Nashville Public Health Department is one of many public health departments across the country educating the public about the dangers of e-cigarettes, explains Metro Health Department spokesman Brian Todd.

“The safety of e-cigarettes has not been studied adequately, consumers have no way of knowing whether e-cigarettes are safe for their intended use, how much nicotine or other potentially harmful chemicals are being inhaled during use, or if there are any benefits associated with using these products,” Todd says. “Certain e-cigarette cartridges contain carcinogens and toxic chemicals, such as diethylene glycol, an ingredient used in antifreeze.”

Dr. Michael Siegel, professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, contends that not only are e-cigarettes safer, they are also serve as a viable tobacco cessation tool.

Siegel authored a report on the topic in the American Journal for Preventive Medicine. After surveying more than 200 cigarette smokers who began using the Blu brand of e-cigarettes, Siegel’s report found that 31 percent of respondents were not smoking at the 6-month point. Of those who were not smoking at 6 months, 56.7 percent were using e-cigarettes, 9 percent were using tobacco-free nicotine products, and 34.3 percent were completely nicotine-free.

As for the safety of the product, Siegel said numerous studies show there are few concerning chemicals in e-cigarette cartridges. However, chemicals like propylene glycol – a respiratory irritant- and carcinogens like acrolein and formaldehyde (used in some e-cigarettes) due pose health risks.

“Whether vaping could pose a small, but significant long-term cancer risk is also unknown,” he adds. “What is known, however, is that vaping is far safer than smoking. It presents much less carcinogenic risk, and no known risk of COPD or heart disease or stroke.”

Conley hopes that more lawmakers and public health official refer to reports like Siegel’s to get better understanding of the perceived and actual risks of e-cigarettes. CASAA has been a major part of changing the public perception about e-cigarettes, so the pending decisions on regulation should only support those efforts, he says.

“At the national level, the perception has improved, and more people have learned electronic cigarettes are not just a fad to get people to keep people smoking,” he adds.

“The decision to ban vaping should be based on science, not opinion.”

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