Electronic cigarette backlash picks up steam

Alex Ourth, Courier Staff

The country has been ablaze the past several months over the issue of electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) smoking. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has received 805 reports of lung injury and confirmed 12 deaths of patients with a common history of e-cigarette smoking. As a result of these reports, the CDC is performing extensive investigations into what might be the cause. Although many who use e-cigarettes may be skeptical about the seriousness of these reports, the investigations have unveiled some alarming information that users should be concerned about.

Electronic cigarettes (also known as vapes, e-hookahs, vape pens, tank systems or mods) were first introduced into the American market in 2007. Since then, they have been successfully marketed as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes for those already smoking. Indeed, when used within these parameters, the aerosol inhaled by e-cigarettes generally does introduce fewer toxins into your lungs than traditional cigarettes. The trouble that the CDC is finding, however, is that many of the users experiencing lung injuries are not fitting into the manufacturer’s guidelines for suggested use.

The first issue their investigation has found is that many of the reported injuries are linked to the vaping of THC products rather than simple nicotine. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the compound in marijuana that is associated with the “high” feeling. Of the data the CDC has collected from 514 of the affected patients, almost 77 percent reported vaping a THC-containing product (with 36 percent exclusively using THC). Although the reported cases have not been attributed to any specific compound (or combination of compounds) as of yet, the high association with THC is very alarming. The concern is even greater considering that many e-cigarette users likely purchase their THC additives or cartridges from non-certified vendors (off the street). Purchasing vaping products off the market eliminates any guarantees of proper quality and dosage of the product. Without such guarantees, users are far more susceptible to harmful effects from toxic chemicals entering the lungs. Thus, the CDC is strongly recommending never purchasing any e-cigarette product off the street or modifying any product outside of the intent of the manufacturers.

The above issue highlights a major flaw within e-cigarette usage today as a whole: the proper use of e-cigarettes is extremely difficult to regulate. Unlike traditional cigarettes which can easily be identified by sight and smell, a variety of cartridges can be inserted into an e-cigarette without indicating what is in it. Even the devices themselves have been speculated to introduce heavy metal ions into users’ lungs due to improper quality control. Being tasked with ensuring the health of the nation, it is no surprise that the CDC is in such a tizzy regarding e-cigarettes, since there is so much uncertainty in their use.

The second major problem demonstrated through the investigation is the age groups of the affected individuals. Of 771 patients that the CDC has collected age data on, 62 percent are between the ages of 18 to 34 years old, and 16 percent of patients are under the age of 18. Thus, it seems that the lung injuries associated with vaping are mostly impacting younger users. Indeed, it is highly unusual for these age groups to already be experiencing poor lung health. This outcome is a result of e-cigarettes being used outside of their design scope. They are not recommended or safe for teens or young adults who have never smoked.

This probably comes as a shock to many considering that the market promotes the fruity flavors and unique devices available (does the older generation even know what a USB stick is?), but despite the industry’s “best attempts” to avoid marketing e-cigarettes to minors, a reported 20.8 percent of high school students and 5 percent of middle school students reported using e-cigarettes. Considering the inherent risks that accompany e-cigarette use among teens (addictive nicotine, ultrafine particle inhalation, heavy metal inhalation, harmful flavorings like diacetyl and cancer-causing chemicals), we really shouldn’t be surprised to see an outbreak in lung injuries associated with them. Unfortunately, considering the novelty of e-cigarette usage among young adults, the issues surfacing are likely to only get worse with continued use.

So, yes, e-cigarette users should be very concerned about the current associations between e-cigarette use and outbreak in lung injuries. Since the key component involved has yet to be identified, there is no way to ensure avoiding the associated outcome. Even if you could, the risks of other future health problems associated with inhaling harmful substances into your lungs should be a cause of concern. If the health concerns presented in these reports stir even the smallest notion within you to quit smoking, I encourage you to seek assistance in doing so. Both the “truth initiative” and “BecomeAnEX” organizations provide resources specifically for people who wish to quit e-cigarette use. Beyond providing information, they have also developed texting programs and other support services to help users quit.