By Michaela Gibson Morris
Electronic cigarettes are sparking a lot of debate.
People who inhale the vaporized nicotine say they’ve been able to quit combustible cigarettes and are reaping significant health benefits.
Jo Escher of Baldwyn credits vaping with helping her kick a 43-year smoking habit and allowing her to control her asthma.
“I no longer have shortness of breath or fleeting chest pain,” said Escher, who had previously made multiple attempts to quit without success. “Every doctor I go to has been highly supportive.”
Anti-smoking advocates, the American Lung Association and the American Thoracic Society have deep reservations about the safety of the devices and unintended consequences that could encourage kids and non-smokers to pick up the practice.
“There is no way for the public health, medical community or consumers to know what chemicals are contained in e-cigarettes or what the short- and long-term health implications might be,” states the American Lung Association.
In Tupelo, the City Council is set to decide Tuesday if the e-cigarettes should be included with the indoor smoking ban.
The FDA is taking public comments on proposed rules for e-cigarettes that include a ban on sale to minors as well as detailed disclosures of ingredients and manufacturing processes. The rules would allow flavorings, which are prohibited in traditional cigarettes. The public comment period will end Aug. 8.
Tupelo pulmonologist Dr. James Rish wants better ways to help people stop smoking, but he wants more science before he starts recommending e-cigarettes. A 2009 FDA study looked at two brands and found some harmful substances in the vapor of the cartridges of two leading brands of e-cigarettes, but far fewer than traditional cigarettes. In its analysis, the FDA noted it shouldn’t be used to draw conclusions because of the wide variation in e-cigarettes.
“My main reservation is the lack of safety data,” Rish said. “That there’s no standard device makes research problematic.”
Aleigh Farris, owner of Druthers Vapor Shoppe in west Tupelo, is eagerly awaiting more in-depth FDA study results that reflect what she and most other American vapor shop owners use to create the liquid for the e-cigarettes: Propylene Glycol, vegetable glycerin, nicotine and food-grade flavorings.
“All of the ingredients are individually regulated by the FDA already,” said Farris, who like many in the industry, welcome FDA regulation.
The battery-powered e-cigarettes work by heating a metal plate or filament that turns the liquid into a vapor. Some e-cigarettes look like regular cigarettes. Many use a vaporizer that’s a little bigger than a marker because they have a longer battery life.
Escher and Farris hope that the Tupelo City Council will wait for more science before joining other cities in adding e-cigarettes to indoor smoking bans. The vapor from e-cigarettes doesn’t behave like cigarette smoke, and e-cigarette users take pains to seek permission before vaping, even when the vapor smells pleasant.
“I got ‘who’s baking cookies?’” the other day, said Escher, who makes a point of asking before vaping.
Rish can see the case for excluding e-cigarettes until the science proves them safe.
“The safest approach is to add it to the ordinance,” Rish said. “But that’s a political decision, there’s no science to back that.”