Archive for Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Are e-cigarettes a savior or just smoke and mirrors?

Jack Tran, owner of Lawrence electronic cigarette store Juice-E-Vapes, said he used the devices to kick his own smoking habit.

Jack Tran, owner of Lawrence electronic cigarette store Juice-E-Vapes, said he used the devices to kick his own smoking habit.

December 24, 2013


Electronic cigarettes at Juice-E-Vapes in Lawrence

Electronic cigarettes at Juice-E-Vapes in Lawrence

An electronic cigarette is loaded with "juice," a flavored liquid that turns into vapor.

An electronic cigarette is loaded with "juice," a flavored liquid that turns into vapor.

Stephen Sealey believes electronic cigarettes saved his life.

He had trouble quitting the real kind, even after breathing problems caused him to once pass out behind the wheel of a car and, later, be diagnosed with emphysema.

He’s 37.

In March of last year, he turned to e-cigarettes, battery-powered devices that dispense nicotine through a vaporized liquid, to try to kick his over-two-decade-long smoking habit. It worked, he said, and in the process he’s been able to save money and cut down on his nicotine intake.

“I went from being told I had six months left to live and on oxygen support to 80 percent lung function and no expiration date,” said Sealey, who lived in Lawrence before moving recently to southeast Kansas. “My doctors are ecstatic that I switched and happy that I stayed switched. Every day now is a victory.”

Despite the prevalence of stories like Sealey’s, many public health and medical professionals have yet to endorse e-cigarettes as safer alternative to the traditional variety. Neither has the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has announced its intention to regulate e-cigarettes but has yet to write any rules.

With little government oversight, e-cigarette makers are free to manufacture their products how and with whatever chemicals they choose.

“Because it’s not regulated right now, it’s essentially the Wild Wild West,” said Charlie Bryan, community health planner for the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, adding: “These tobacco producers are creating products that contain chemicals that are not well-understood, with flavors that appeal to children.”

Public health officials often cite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent findings that e-cigarette use among middle and high school students doubled between 2011 and 2012. And they say e-cigarette makers are targeting children by making nicotine vapor in a wide variety of flavors, including bubble gum, Fruit Loops and Good & Plenty.

Last year, the Kansas Legislature stepped in and banned the purchase and possession of e-cigarettes by minors. And while e-cigarettes aren’t subject to the state’s indoor smoking ban, organizations across the state have been writing the devices into their smoke-free policies, including, locally, Lawrence Memorial Hospital and the Lawrence, Baldwin City and Eudora school districts.

Another concern for health advocates is the fact that Big Tobacco is increasingly backing e-cigarettes. In Kansas, tobacco company lobbyists have been encouraging state lawmakers to champion e-cigarettes as a less-harmful alternative, like allowing state employees who use the devices to pay a smaller health insurance premium than traditional smokers, according to state Rep. John Wilson, D-Lawrence.

‘No safe cigarette’

For many in the medical community, though, the science just isn’t there.

“There is no safe cigarette and there will never be a safe cigarette. It’s like saying, ‘What’s better — a lot of arsenic or a little bit of arsenic?’” said Charles Yockey, a pulmonary specialist at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. “I’ve been studying the human body for a lifetime, and if you go back to the original design, your lungs were never meant to be an incinerator.”

Some researchers have found that e-cigarettes contain substances that are carcinogenic or toxic, said Babalola Faseru, assistant professor of preventive medicine and public health at Kansas University Medical Center. And without regulation, advertised nicotine levels aren’t being verified, he added.

“Few studies have examined whether e-cigarettes are safe or more effective than existing smoking cessations aids” like nicotine gum and patches, said Faseru, who predicts it will be years before the public health community takes a definitive stance on the devices.

But others say that anything that can get people to stop smoking is good. Jack Tran is the owner of the newly opened Juice-E-Vapes, 1216 E. 23rd St., and a former tobacco user who says he was able to overcome his own addiction with the help of e-cigarettes.

At his store, Tran, 21, makes the liquid himself, listing the ingredients right on the product: propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, natural and artificial flavoring, water and/or alcohol, nicotine. That’s compared, he says, with the “thousands of chemicals in cigarettes.”

Not only that, he says, but with e-cigarettes users are able to satisfy their oral fixation while controlling the amount of nicotine they’re consuming. And, he added, their clothes and breath no longer stink.

“You just feel a lot better,” he said.

Tran started smoking when he was 16 but got spooked when his dad, a longtime smoker, died from lung cancer at the age of 56. On a recent day at his business, Tran took a drag off his e-cigarette, blew into a paper towel and showed a visitor how its color didn’t change, which wouldn’t have been the case with a normal cigarette.

“I really don’t even have to have nicotine anymore. It’s more of a hobby at this point,” said Tran, as he exhaled what looked like a cloud of smoke but quickly disappeared and smelled of fruit. “I can quit anytime I want.”


Gary Anderson 4 years, 6 months ago

Calling e-cigarettes a tobacco product is like calling my hot chocolate coffee just because it's in a coffee cup. E-cigarettes could just as easily be lumped with asthma inhalers. They are a nicotine delivery device...are nicotine patches or is nicotine gum lumped with tobacco products? Don't get me wrong...I HATE tobacco use. Nicotine is not tobacco.

Glenda Susie Breese 4 years, 6 months ago

The purpose of this article to me( anyway) was to lump it with our sitting president. Trying to discredit him that it had not been regulated. .Or it was how it was perceived anyway.

Wayne Kerr 4 years, 6 months ago

I didn't read it like that at all. I see it like someone rationalizing that they used to be addicted to online porn but they aren't anymore now that they've bought a new x-box. Now, instead, they're addicted to video games, but that's somehow better, right?

And these e-cigarettes are legal to smoke inside Lawrence bars and restaurants, correct?

Gary Anderson 4 years, 5 months ago

Legal yes...but impossible to smoke...there is no smoke, only vapor.

Melissa Allen 4 years, 5 months ago

Yes its true where there's smoke there's fire...these you don't light up with fire!!! Its a vapor..I got one for Christmas and have now started to quit smoking and now just vaping....I already feel better!

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