Can regulations keep up with the jonesing for nicotine? With rapid technological advances in nicotine delivery over the last decade, and especially the last few years, government entities face challenges with attempts to regulate e-cigarettes and vaporizers.
The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly wants to hear from the public on the issue during its Monday meeting that starts at 7 p.m. The Assembly is slated to discuss Ordinance 2014-32, which proposes amending the second-hand smoke control code to regulate the use of electronic cigarette vapor.
The amendment to the Juneau Clean Air Ordinance would include the use of e-cigarettes and vaporizers as part of the ban on smoking in bars, restaurants and public buildings — in other words, it regulates e-cigarette vapor the same way as cigarette smoke.
“If you ask people who use e-cigarettes if they’re smoking, they’ll say ‘No’ — they ‘vape,’” Kristin Cox, with the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, told the Assembly during a Monday presentation.
The current iteration of the e-cigarette is the vape-pen — a device with a battery, a microprocessor, a tank and mouth piece. Users load the vape-pen with a liquid commonly called e-juice, which generally consists of propylene glycol, nicotine and flavoring.
Robert Rodman, owner of Percy’s Liquor, sells e-cigarettes and vaporizers at his downtown shop. They have become a popular product at his shop since starting to carry them three years ago, he said, especially with cruise ship crew members. Amending the ordinance wouldn’t affect business for him, he said — it wasn’t affected when the ordinance went into effect in 2008.
He has a selection of devices, from the now obsolete first generation of e-cigarettes — which closely resemble cigarettes — to a vape-pen that can aerosolize liquid, wax or solids. He also carries the liquids, with options for a high or low nicotine concentration, as well as a nicotine-free liquid.
Rodman keeps a sample vape-pen at his store, loaded with nicotine-free, coffee-flavored liquid, which he takes a pull on to demonstrate the consistency of the vapor. He’s not a smoker and never has been, he said.
Vaping for health?
Some people use e-cigarettes instead of cigarettes because they are perceived to be safer, though there are not yet conclusive studies.
“We don’t really know enough about them,” Cox said. “They haven’t been studied very much.”
Concerns she brought before the Assembly included the lack of regulation of the liquids and the lack of consistency the absence of regulation allows.
“There aren’t good studies to demonstrate (that they are safer than cigarettes),” she said. “But I do think there’s potential to be safer for individual users. They may be less dangerous.”
But less dangerous does not mean they are necessarily harmless. Some studies indicate that inhalation of aerosolized propylene glycol may not be safe when chronically inhaled into the lungs. Other concerns include the inhalation of nanoparticles of metal or other ultrafine particulate matter, which can be breathed deeply into the lungs. There are concerns that some ingredients, when heated, can create carcinogenic compounds.
“The aerosol that is exhaled is not just harmless water vapor,” Cox said.
It contains whatever is in the liquid aerosolized, including nicotine and potential carcinogens, she said, adding that propylene glycol, which is also used in fog machines often seen at rock concerts, can be an irritant to the eyes and respiratory system as well.
“There haven’t been any long-term studies or any short-term studies that I’m aware of that say what kinds of effects it has on people,” Rodman said. “But I do know it’s been a happy thing for some people who have gradually cut down, who have gone from full-strength to light to zero.”
Cox said e-cigarettes could be used for tobacco cessation for motivated individuals, but argued that it isn’t shown to be more effective than other cessation methods, and some users who may have given up nicotine products completely otherwise might keep using e-cigarettes because of the perception that they are not harmful.
Cox also brought up “previous harm-reduction innovations” like filters, light cigarettes, low-tar cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, strongly implying it may be only a matter of time before e-cigarettes are shown to be just as unhealthy as cigarettes.
Vaping for convenience
Many of Rodman’s customers are crew members from the cruise ships where lit cigarettes are banned.
Cox showed advertisements for e-cigarette brand Blu, touting the freedom to “smoke” anywhere.
Expanding the ordinance doesn’t seem necessary to Rodman, who doesn’t think they are used commonly in Juneau’s public spaces, bars and restaurants.
“I don’t go out a lot, but I’m not really aware that people are (vaping) in restaurants or bars,” Rodman said. “I hear occasionally that someone uses a vape next door (at the Viking Bar), but I think people are conscious of everybody else.”
Cox argued that use of e-cigarettes in places where non-smokers — or non-vapers — congregate is a risk.
She said it could be an irritant to people with asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder, and that it could trigger vasoconstriction or heart attacks.
“It’s not safe to be using in public where non-smokers want to breathe clean air,” Cox said.
She also said the aerosol settles on surfaces and that it isn’t safe for children or pets who might unintentionally consume or absorb the aerosol.
Regulating e-cigs and e-juice
Cox cited 215 reports in 2013 of children ingesting the liquid for e-cigarette cartridges. In 2010, she said, there was at least one call per month to poison control related to children ingesting the liquid. She also said that if the cartridge breaks open and there is prolonged contact with the skin, it could cause nicotine poisoning in adults.
“It needs to be regulated,” Cox said of the emerging industry. “There should be an age limit for purchasing them for sure. Advertising should be controlled as a tobacco product.”
As far as restricting access to minors goes, there’s an incidental restriction at Percy’s Liquor — anyone under the age of 21 may not enter the premises.
“There already are age limits, I mean, in my store you have to be 21 just to step in the door,” Rodman said. “People do come in — younger people — they say ‘I just wanna buy cigarettes, you only have to be 19,’ but since you have to be 21 to come in, it’s just one of those things.”
He voiced his opinion against the proposed e-cigarette restrictions considered by the Legislature in a My Turn piece published in the Empire on March 18.
“Like many, I believe e-cigarettes should only be sold to and used by adults. I also support restrictions on the use of e-cigarettes in schools and other places meant for children. However, Senate Bill 209 and House Bill 360 go far beyond that. Lawmakers should follow science and evidence, and clearly that is still being developed,” he wrote.
He is not in favor of regulations on businesses determining if patrons may use e-cigarettes on premises, as the proposed amendment to the Juneau Clean Air Ordinance would dictate, arguing that business owners can make those decisions on their own.
In addition to regulations protecting the rights of non-smokers to be in an environment free of smoke or vapor, Cox advocates for restrictions on advertising and marketing. She argues that with celebrity endorsements and fruity flavors, e-cigarettes are being marketed toward children and teenagers.
“It’s an initiation tool for youth,” Cox said. “E-cigarette advertising tripled in one year and the number of youth using doubled.”
She said 1.78 million youth have tried e-cigarettes, 20 percent of whom had not previously tried smoking.
“We’re fighting literally over the lives of the youth, that are vulnerable and impressionable,” Cox said, stating that tobacco companies are dependent on young people for the future of their industry, while NCADD and others are fighting for a tobacco-free generation in the future.
“Tobacco kills 50 percent of users,” she said. “And 80 percent start smoking before age 18.”
Now is the time that government entities are debating — and acting on — regulating e-cigarettes and vaporizers, and a chance for Juneau residents to weigh in on the debate here will be when the Assembly takes up the proposed amendment to the Juneau Clean Air Ordinance Monday at 7 p.m. in the Assembly chambers.
• For more information on NCADD’s Tobacco Prevention Program, contact Kristin Cox at 463-3755, ext. 224, or by emailing email@example.com. Online at juneauempire.com, view documents with a list of citations for various studies.
Editor's note: Updated to reflect 215 calls were made to poison control in 2013 and 1.78 million youth have tried using e-cigarettes.