Health Column: The allure of E-cigarettes
Free Press Health Columnist
Ah, the drama. The allure of the cigarette is as undeniable as the power that 1942’s Casablanca held over the American psyche with the simple line, “Here’s looking at you, kid.” Later, tuxedoed Humphrey Bogart laments to Ingrid Bergman their lost love as white smoke curls away his dreams into a darkened Moroccan bar. This was followed by the likes of James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and now Miley Cyrus, bringing the appeal of the rebel without a cause to so many. It only makes sense then that Reynolds American and Lorillard, the No. 2 and No. 3 largest tobacco companies in the U.S., have moved to merge in order to bring Lorillard’s Blu eCigs to the forefront of the burgeoning e-cigarette market. While many kids and adults alike are desperately seeking ways to light up in a “safer” and less-vilified fashion, it’s time to take a harder look at exactly what is being offered to us.
And that’s where the problems begin. We don’t exactly know a true list of ingredients in e-cigarettes because of limited regulation.
A LIL’ HISTORY
The Chinese company, Ruyan, apparently invented the e-cig in 2004, quickly bringing it to worldwide distribution along with other manufacturers.
WebMD summarizes how they work:
“A battery-powered heater vaporizes liquid nicotine in a small cartridge. (It also activates a light at the ‘lit’ end of the e-cigarette.) Users can opt for a cartridge without nicotine.
The heater also vaporizes propylene glycol (PEG) in the cartridge. PEG is the stuff of which theatrical smoke is made.
The user gets a puff of hot gas that feels a lot like tobacco smoke.
When the user exhales, there’s a cloud of PEG vapor that looks like smoke. The vapor quickly dissipates.”
According to Craig Youngblood, president of InLife, an e-cigarette company, what is probably most appealing to the vapor are the claims that e-cigarettes “do not expose the user, or others close by, to harmful levels of cancer-causing agents and other dangerous chemicals normally associated with traditional tobacco products.”
Oh, whew, they don’t cause cancer so they must be safe. But wait, a National Institutes of Health preliminary study led by Dr. Steven M. Dubinett suggested that nicotine-laced vapor from electronic cigarettes promotes the development of cancer in human lung cells in a similar fashion as tobacco smoke.
If you trust that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is looking out for you, then you probably don’t need to read any further. If you find consolation in “what you don’t know won’t hurt you,” then you’ll be fine with inhaling an unknown quantity of vaporized, synthetic nicotine.
The thing is, nicotine is so dangerously addictive because its potent properties are delivered in regular puffs, while even the most habituated heroin user needs only three or four daily doses to stay perpetually high. And this year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention admits that poison-control phone calls are on the rise, as even 1 tsp of liquid nicotine can be fatal to a child. There are also known doses of tin and the at least moderately hazardous propylene glycol (rated 4 out of 10 on the Environmental Working Group’s list of toxins) to consider.
In full disclosure, I occasionally smoke the plant known as Nicotiana tabacum in my pipe. I like the smell and it is relaxing. As the botanical name suggests, tobacco does contain quantities of naturally occurring nicotine and as such, like any other potent medicinal plant, can certainly be abused. But the traditional use of N. tabacum didn’t contain cadmium, cyanide, benzene, formaldehyde, methanol, acetylene or ammonia, several of which have carcinogenic properties. It appears the problems with conventional and electronic cigarettes are in these additives (if indeed the latter contain any) and in the frequency of use.
Let’s not forget the nature of addictions. There is a huge difference between the casual smoker or vapor and the addict that is consciously or unconsciously seeking self destruction and pain avoidance in the next fix. We know that genetic tendencies, childhood imprints, peer-pressure, lack of stress-dealing skills and more all influence addictive behavior. This is the realm of psychotherapy and the skilled therapist who can help us to feel and deal. And for many, it’s time to lighten up the vilification of tobacco and take a hard look at what’s being presented to us in e-cigarettes.
In this case, it sure looks to be true that where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
Christopher Lepisto, a GJ Free Press health columnist, graduated as a naturopathic doctor (N.D.) from Bastyr University in Seattle, Wash. He is a native of Grand Junction and opened his practice here in 2004. Previously, Lepisto lived and worked in New Zealand, where he developed a special interest in indigenous herbal medicines. For more information, visit http://www.grandjunctionnaturopath.com or call 970-250-4104.
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