Think e-cigarettes are a fun, new, tobacco-harm-reduction innovation? Do you think they are going to help to stop the senseless loss of life that smoking is responsible for? I suggest you think again.
E-cigarette aerosol is not “harmless water vapor”. E-cigarette “juice” is made up primarily of propylene glycol, nicotine and flavorings. Propylene glycol is not harmless when routinely inhaled. E-cig juice is unregulated by the FDA and could contain anything. E-cig aerosol has been found to contain carcinogenic chemicals, toxic heavy metals and nicotine residue that floats in the air and settles on the surfaces around an e-cigarette user.
Many teens believe, as most people do, that e-cigarettes are harmless. They are new and high-tech, which appeals to teens. They come in thousands of candy flavors! What could go wrong? Add $82 million last year in celebrity advertising (a 15x increase since 2010) and … we’ve got a problem.
To be clear, the largest e-cig companies are owned by big tobacco. If you think big tobacco is using e-cigs as a cessation device rather than an initiation tool, you’re being generous. Because e-cigarettes resemble traditional cigarettes and emit a thick aerosol, they will have the effect of normalizing “smoking” behavior and make smoke-free policies harder to enforce.
Kids will experiment, but that doesn’t mean that they are going to become smokers. Three out of four youth smokers will continue smoking into adulthood, and nine out of 10 adult smokers started before age 19. Since tobacco kills 50 percent of its users, big tobacco is dependent on initiating these susceptible experimenters.
The Centers for Disease Control just released findings that more than a quarter of a million youths who had never smoked a conventional cigarette used electronic cigarettes in 2013. This number reflects a three-fold increase from 2011. The study adds that 44 percent of these students intended to use conventional cigarettes within the year. This undeniably demonstrates that e-cigarettes are initiating youth never-smokers into smoking.
In addition, nicotine is highly addictive and can harm brain development, which is in progress until age 26.
Why do kids smoke? Because advertising works. Consistent with previous studies, this study found that youths who reported exposure to tobacco ads had higher rates of intention to smoke than those who weren’t exposed to such ads. Twenty-six percent of youths who were exposed to three to four ad sources reported an intention to smoke, compared to 13 percent of students who had no exposure.
In the 50 years since the Surgeon General’s report linking cigarette smoking to lung cancer, 20 million Americans have died from tobacco-related illness, and smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States. Smoking kills nearly 500 Alaskans every year and causes 20 times that number to live with significant illness. Every year we lose the knowledge, wisdom, and love of Alaskans prematurely. Smoking-related diseases cost Alaskans $579 million a year in direct and indirect health care expenses, much of which comes from taxpayers.
For more information or to get involved with the Juneau Clean Air Coalition, call me at 463-3755. You can also “like” the Juneau Clean Air Coalition on Facebook.
• Kristin Cox lives in Juneau and is a naturopathic doctor and tobacco prevention and control specialist for the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.