E-Cigarettes: The New Bad Boy?
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E-Cigarettes: The New Bad Boy?


E-Cigarettes: The New Bad Boy?It‘s like any relationship—particularly those rebound ones. There you are, feeling so lost, so sad, can’t get out of your head and oh, your heart (or at least your chest) aches with the loss. And then another love comes along; attractive and tech savvy, sweet-smelling and approachable. Hell, even your Mom might approve!

It’s all so perfect. You’ll never get burned again.

No Tar, New Chemicals

In the case of e-cigarettes, however, the relationship is turning ugly fast. But should it be? Medical News Today reported last month that though vaping delivers the nicotine we smokers crave, e-cigs contain none of the tar. Read a little further, though, and it begins to look a little less ideal. Sales of e-cigs have doubled every year since 2008, but consumers still don’t know the potential risks, exactly how much nicotine and added chemicals are being inhaled during use, and if vaping may end up leading to cigarette use. This is particularly important when it comes to minors who are “uniquely susceptible to addiction” worries Tim McAfee, the Director of CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health. This might answer some questions for all the parents out there asking themselves, “Should I let my kid vape?”

Basically, if e-cigs get you hooked on nicotine and you need a fix, any self-respecting addict who runs out mid-vape would naturally grab the nearest Marlboro…and you’re back on the tar! (Not to mention the acetone, ammonia, benzene, cadmium, and formaldehyde that tobacco companies put in their products, along with loads of other chemicals.)  But hey—with a little planning and forethought, all you gotta do is make sure you’ve got a couple of e-cigs in your pockets at all times and you’re good, right?

Don’t Underestimate the E-Cig

Maybe. Keep in mind that nicotine alone is pretty bad, causing high blood pressure and constricted blood vessels, which can lead to heart failure and arrhythmias. The bitch just keeps giving. Secondly, e-cigs have benefitted from being so little regulated. Harvard Health Publications points out that electronic cigarettes “deliver an array of other chemicals, including diethylene glycol (a highly toxic substance), various nitrosamines (powerful carcinogens found in tobacco), and at least four other chemicals suspected of being harmful to humans.”

Damn. And we looked so good together! Well, you weren’t the only one fooled by what seemed like a perfect answer to nicotine addiction. As Dirk Hanson showed in a recent post on Addiction Inbox, even experts don’t know what to make of vaping. Former US Surgeon General Richard Carmona believes that abstinence has proven to be a failure and that “we have to take advantage of every opportunity for harm reduction.” But then it turns out Carmona is now a board member for NJOY, the E-cig maker. Meanwhile the American Cancer Society’s Russ Sciandra states that “there is no scientific evidence that e-cigarettes are a safe substitution tool for traditional cigarettes or an effective smoking cessation tool.”

Making a Plan

Amy L. Fairchild, a Professor of Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University, is using the debate to ask some bigger questions like, “What lessons should be drawn from the histories of alcohol and narcotic-drug prohibition?” Questions like that seem the way to go while the FDA figures out some product standards for e-cigarettes, whether the low levels of contaminants in e-cigarette vapor pose health risks and whether “passive vaping” is possible. (Los Angeles recently followed New York and Chicago in banning e-cigarettes everywhere traditional cigarettes are prohibited.)

Right now it does seem as if vaping is less damaging than smoking—but I don’t think the e-cig companies are in it for anyone’s health, despite the claims that the product helps with smoking cessation. They want product off the shelves and they’re targeting kids with flavors like apple crumble and fruit punch. In short, e-smoking is looking more and more like a sweet gateway to a long, unhealthy relationship.

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About Author

Dana Burnell has written for The London Times Sunday Magazine, The Guardian Weekend Magazine, Inside New York and Time Out New York. A former Editorial Assistant at Harvard Review, she’s the received Mellon Foundation Grant and two Fiction Fellowship Grants from Columbia University. She’s written two novels, Mistaken Nonentity and The Tame Man.