A darker side to e-cigarettes

The two sides of electronic cigarettes and their effects on health are coming into sharper focus.

Smoking e-cigarettes, also known as vaping, has been promoted as an effective way for people to quit cigarettes and other tobacco products, because they continue to deliver the addictive drug in tobacco, nicotine, with fewer of the carcinogens and other health hazards of smoking.

E-cigarette supporters and their detractors packed state House meeting rooms for a committee hearing Monday. Many swear by vaping as an effective way of quitting tobacco products and object to bills in the House and Senate, HB 1645 and SB 5573, that seek to regulate vaping products, taxing them at the same 95 percent rate as tobacco, prohibiting the use of flavorings, barring their use by those under 18 and requiring they be sold in child-resistant packaging.

As vaping has grown in popularity, its problems also have become more prevalent.

Among concerns cited in the legislation and by others:

The state Department of Health’s 2014 Healthy Youth Survey of more than 200,000 students in the sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades, found that while smoking has declined significantly among youths, nearly 1 in 5 tenth-graders said they have used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days; and 13 percent of 10th graders who do not smoke reported using e-cigarettes in the same period.

Calls to poison control centers in the state for children who accidentally ingested the liquid nicotine used in vaping products increased from two in 2010 to 97 for the first nine months of 2014.

And while e-cigarettes remove many of the 7,000 toxins and carcinogens in tobacco products, medical studies have only just begun into the effects of the toxins they do contain, among them lead and formaldehyde, to those vaping and those exposed to second-hand vapors. Dr. Gary Goldbaum and Sam Low, both with the Snohomish Health District noted in a Feb. 15 Herald commentary that it will take decades to understand the long-term health effects of vaping.

The use by those under 18 may be the most concerning, especially among youths who aren’t smoking tobacco but who are easily putting themselves at risk of addiction to vaping’s nicotine. The cornucopia of vaping flavors also appears purposely and cynically marketed toward teens. One company, Alpha Vape, sells flavored vapor liquids whose names seem to take inspiration from the “brand names” used to sell marijuana, including Mr. Miyagui (tropical fruits), Sweet Tooth (vanilla and graham cracker) and The Dude (peach and pineapple.)

Once the addiction to nicotine is formed through e-cigarettes, it isn’t difficult to imagine many teens increasing their use of cigarettes or using them exclusively, reversing the gains we’ve seen in smoking rates.

E-cigarettes have the potential to improve the health of adults who smoke, but for children and teens they pose threats that rightly call for regulation.

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