Health feature: The future of smoking, or not
Special to the Free Press
Trying to quit and having trouble?
Mandy Ivanov, Eagle County public health promotion coordinator, suggests that local residents who are trying to quit smoking call the Colorado Quit Line at 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
“The Colorado Quit Line actually sees a successful cessation rate of about 30 percent,” Ivanov said. “For tobacco cessation this is phenomenal — that’s about as high as any program achieves.”
One can also visit www.coquitline.org.
Electronic cigarettes became available in the U.S. in 2006, but perhaps the biggest sign that their usage is now ubiquitous came just a few weeks ago, when the Oxford English Dictionary declared the term “vape” as its Word of the Year for 2014, beating out other conversational contenders such as “bae,” “budtender” and “slacktivism.” Vape is defined as “to inhale and exhale the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device.”
THE ‘LESSER EVIL’ E-CIGARETTE DEBATE
Although vaping is now commonplace and the electronic cigarette (e-cigarette for short) business is booming, many health officials are still holding their breath on whether or not these tar-less devices are a healthier alternative to traditional tobacco cigarettes. Dr. Dennis Lipton, board-certified internal medicine physician at Vail Valley Medical Center, said e-cigarettes might be the “lesser evil” when compared to regular cigarettes, but “there’s no proof of that.”
“In a cigarette, you’re actually combusting or burning organic material, and that releases thousands of chemicals,” Lipton said. “In e-cigarettes, you have a couple of chemicals plus the nicotine — with its various chemicals — as opposed to thousand(s).”
Lipton said in addition to the lack of regulation of the nicotine content, there’s also some uncertainty health-wise with the additives and flavors used in e-cigarettes.
“The big question in my mind is the propylene glycol and the gylcerins that are used,” Lipton said. “(These) juices are generally considered safe (by) the FDA, but their safety profile comes from consuming it by oral intake, not from vaporizing it and putting it into the lungs. That’s the worrisome thing to me.”
Unlike the decades-long research on the harmful effects of tobacco cigarettes, currently there are few conclusive studies on the potential health risks of e-cigarettes.
A NEW WAY GET ADDICTED — OR TO QUIT?
Not all e-cigarette use is recreational. Some see e-cigarettes as a tool for smoking cessation, comparing them to nicotine patches and gum. A study released May 2014 by the University College London in England looked at nearly 6,000 smokers from 2009 to 2014 who had attempted to quit without prescription medication or professional support. The study found that smokers were approximately 60 percent more likely to report succeeding if they used e-cigarettes compared to using willpower or over-the-counter nicotine replacement products like patches or gum.
Lipton said there have been a handful of times where he’s suggested e-cigarettes to someone looking to quit smoking.
“For people that are looking for a smokeless tobacco as a way to taper their nicotine consumption, it is an option,” Lipton said. “People who’ve tried patches, who’ve tried gum, who’ve tried everything they can think of, I’ll throw it out as something they can try.”
However, he’s noticed that most people end up smoking e-cigarettes rather than quitting altogether.
“A more preferable option is a nicotine inhaler, a pharmaceutical nicotine replacement protocol with regulated nicotine,” Lipton said. “The difference is that (this) is a highly regulated pharmaceutical, whereas e-cigarettes are not regulated at all.”
Jey Henk, co-owner of Get Hi Gallery in Eagle-Vail, where they sell both e-cigarettes and e-juice (or e-liquid) refills, said he’s had quite a few customers who have used e-cigarettes as a way to cut back on smoking.
“They say, ‘I smoked Marlboro Reds all my life and it’s affecting my health and I’m just trying to get off of it,” Henk said. “I think it’s a less abruptive (method) for people who have been smoking for a long time.”
One concern public health officials have with e-cigarettes is their use among teenagers and young adults. According to 2013 stats from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the smoking rate among high school students is 15.7 percent nation-wide, the lowest it’s been in 22 years. However, the National Youth Tobacco Survey found e-cigarette use and experimentation is on the rise among youth in the U.S., increasing three-fold from 2011 to 2013.
“Kids who try e-cigarettes may move onto cigarettes to appease their nicotine addiction, “ said David Brendsel, communications specialist at Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, in an email this week. “(Also), the tobacco industry markets these products in thousands of youth-appealing flavors like Lovely Bubbly, Cookies and Cream and Gummi Bear.”
Health officials may see e-cigarette flavors as mainly a marketing ploy for teens, but Henk pointed out that “adults like flavors as well,” he said.
At Get Hi Gallery, you can get e-liquid refills in flavors that don’t contain any nicotine at all.
Henk himself said he quit smoking cold turkey 15 years ago when he realized that it “just doesn’t work” when you’re in the mountains and want to live an active lifestyle.
“Smoking was really reducing my ability to participate in events and activities that I wanted to do,” Henk said. “Mountain biking at 10,000 feet — you can’t really do that when you’re sucking down half a pack of cigs a day.”
Mainly due to the lack of concrete research on e-cigarettes, we’re still waiting to exhale on their long-term health affects. This past April, the FDA proposed stricter rules on e-cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, nicotine gels, water pipe tobacco and hookahs, but putting these regulations into place is expected to take years. For now, e-cigarette usage is being determined largely by public opinion. If we take the dictionary’s word for it, vaping may be here to stay.
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