First District voices health concerns about e-cigarettes

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are available in the Minot community and raising some concerns.

The e-cigarette is a battery powered device that looks like a real cigarette, with changeable cartridges, or filter tips, that allow users to inhale a nicotine vapor instead of smoke. The cartridges come in a number of flavors.

“One filter tip is about equivalent to a pack of regular cigarettes. You can smoke them anywhere because it is a vapor. Some smokers buy them because they’re able to smoke them on a long flight or in other places they can’t smoke,” said Kacey Quinata, an e-cigarette kiosk employee.

E-cigarettes are advertised as safer than regular cigarettes, because they don’t contain the 4,000 chemicals that regular cigarettes contain, though e-cigarettes do contain nicotine and some other chemicals.

In a hearing scheduled for Aug. 17, e-cigarettes will be classified either as a nicotine product or a tobacco product. Their classification will impact the future sales of e-cigarettes in the U.S.

“If it’s termed a nicotine product, it will fall under the same guidelines as any nicotine cessation aid, and that includes rigorous testing by the FDA. If it’s a tobacco product, it will fall under current tobacco regulations,” said Renae Byre, tobacco prevention director for First District Health Unit of Minot.

Byre said that many smokers might feel the e-cigarette is a good tobacco cessation aid, but they should be aware that it might not help them quit in the long run and that there are some health risks.

“People are going to think, this is a good way to help me quit. But this is not a cessation product. In our line of work (tobacco cessation counseling) we use what’s proven and what has scientific evidence behind it,” Byre said.

“The e-cigarette continues to keep people addicted to nicotine,” she added.

The e-cigarette might have some health risks as well. Byre said the public should be aware that while the FDA has done preliminary testing on e-cigarettes, they have not been through more rigorous tests and the long-term health effects of the product are not known.

“In the preliminary test, they found levels of chemicals in e-cigarettes that are known human carcinogens. They also found that e-cigarettes don’t deliver a consistent level of nicotine. Even packages that had ‘no nicotine’ printed on them were shown to have small amounts of nicotine,” Byre said.

“With just nicotine itself, there are health risks, such as high blood pressure, stress on gastrointestinal and respiratory systems, an increased seizure risk, and an increased hypothermia risk,” she added.

According to the FDA’s preliminary test, the majority of e-cigarettes tested did contain chemicals related to tobacco specific impurities suspected of being harmful to humans, such as anabasine, myosmine, and beta-nicotyrine. Half of the e-cigarette samples also tested positive for certain tobacco specific nitrosoamines that are known human carcinogens. In addition, e-cigarettes were found to contain diethylene glycol, a compound similar to that which is found in anti-freeze.

“Some of the chemicals (found in preliminary testing of e-cigarettes) can be found in other products, too. The main concern is, in the e-cigarettes, not just that the chemicals are present, but the levels at which they’re present,” Byre said.

Another concern public health officials have raised about e-cigarettes is their appeal to youth and the potential for e-cigarette smokers to become regular smokers. Minors are able to buy e-cigarettes. Another attraction for youth may be the many flavors of e-cigarettes and the ability to smoke them anywhere.

“We’re concerned that this product can normalize tobacco use again, because you’ll see people smoking them in more places and kids might begin to think that smoking is more common than it is,” Byre said.

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