Another View - Daniel Fortin: E-cigarettes are a genuine health concern for NH youth
THE OXFORD dictionary has designated the word vape, “to inhale and exhale the vapor produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device,” as the 2014 Word of the Year. E-cigarettes, also known as ENDS (electronic nicotine delivery systems) are battery-powered devices that heat up liquid mixtures of nicotine and other ingredients to produce an aerosol, not just water vapor, which is inhaled by the user. While manufacturers claim that these devices are safer than regular cigarettes, questions remain about their safety, effectiveness and ingredients.
Nicotine is known to be as addictive as heroin or cocaine, and some of the aerosols emitted contain formaldehyde, lead and nickel.
Most concerning to Breathe New Hampshire is the aggressive marketing of these products to young people, luring a new generation into nicotine addiction. Offering flavors like cotton candy, root beer, and bubble gum, e-cigarette manufacturers are using clever marketing and appealing packaging to attract younger users. All of the major tobacco companies now own e-cigarette brands and, in the past three years, the amount of money spent on advertising e-cigarettes has increased 1,200 percent.
Despite a recent decline in teen cigarette smoking rates, the use of e-cigarettes among this group continues to rise. More than a quarter of a million youth who had never smoked a cigarette used e-cigarettes in 2013, according to a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research. This number reflects a three-fold increase, from about 79,000 in 2011, to more than 263,000 in 2013. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also reports that one in three high school students perceived e-cigarettes to be less harmful than conventional cigarettes, and those students were more likely to have used them.
Fortunately, New Hampshire was one of the first states to prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors under 18, and Breathe NH is proud to have been instrumental, along with members of our New Hampshire Youth Network, in helping to pass this law in 2010.
Federal, state and local regulators are struggling to keep up with the pace of e-cigarettes, which were introduced into the U.S. market in 2007 and are now available in more than 450 varieties and e-juice flavors. The FDA has proposed regulations that include warning labels and ingredient lists on e-cigarettes, but, realistically, these measures could take years to enact. Last April, the FDA filed a request for the authority to regulate e-cigarettes as a tobacco product.
In the future, with the appropriate testing, regulation and approval by the FDA and proper monitoring by a physician or health care provider, e-cigarettes may prove to be an effective smoking cessation tool. However, that is not how the majority of these devices are currently being promoted.
Individuals who wish to quit smoking should know that the FDA has approved the following products as safe, effective options: nicotine gum, nicotine skin patches, nicotine lozenges, nicotine oral inhaled products, nicotine nasal spray, and the medicines Zyban and Chantix. Additional information and resources are available on the Breathe NH website at www.breathenh.org.
Daniel Fortin is president and CEO of Breathe New Hampshire.