Julie Woessner puffs on an electronic cigarette and feels a vapor full of nicotine wafting deep into her lungs.
Woessner and thousands around the country are passionate in their belief that the battery-powered sticks that deliver nicotine without burning have been lifesavers.
“If I hadn’t have had it, I’d still be smoking,’ said Woessner, 46, a homemaker living in Wildwood.
People like Woessner call themselves “vapers” because they “vape” or inhale vapor that includes nicotine from e-cigarettes. They
worry the government may try to take away something they see as a lifesaver.
“If that happens, I will be smoking again, and that makes me sick,” said Woessner. She first used the device in January and immediately stopped smoking.
A federal Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman said the FDA has not moved to ban e-cigarettes, which heat a liquid and nicotine to a vapor so people can puff them.
FDA spokeswoman Siobhan DeLancey contends her agency wants to regulate electronic cigarette so it can be sure that the people who use them are getting a reliable dose of nicotine, and that there are no far-reaching health effects from long-term use.
“There are no long-term studies on the health effects of just nicotine, minus the tobacco component. We know what smoking tobacco does to the body over the long term,” DeLancey said. “What we want to see are well-designed clinical studies. Personal reports are not enough,” DeLancy said.
The FDA maintains e-cigarettes contain carcinogens and toxic chemicals like diethylene glycol, an ingredient in industrial antifreeze.
But backers of e-cigarettes contend what is produced is much safer than cigarettes.
The Electronic Cigarette Association doesn’t claim e-cigarettes are smoke cessation devices and it isn’t making health claims.
The trade association made up of about 20 companies was formed this year.
Matt Salmon, the group’s president estimates revenues this year at $100 million, way above last year.
There are hundreds of thousands of users, he said.
“They’re very, very passionate,” Salmon said.
Salmon said that while the government continues to allow a known killer like combustible cigarettes, it should allow an alternative like e-cigarettes. “The FDA doesn’t seem to have a clear agenda,” Salmon said. “If it’s totally about public health, why not ban tobacco?”
Patricia Clewell, 49, a mosaic artist living in Webster Groves, is asking similar questions. She started smoking at 15 and was averaging a pack a day when she started vaping in March. She immediately stopped smoking.
“If you’re going to smoke anyway, whatever you can do to minimize your tobacco use is a good thing,” she said.
Clewell doesn’t consider vaping the same thing as smoking.
“You’re not lighting anything. There’s no combustion. It’s the combustion that kills you, not nicotine,” Clewell said.
What makes the electronic cigarettes more effective than things like the nicotine patch is that people use the hands to bring something to the month, Clewell said.
Clewell’s husband, David Clewell, 54, a professor who directs the creative writing program at Webster University, went from two packs a day to four to six cigarettes a day when he started vaping.
“I feel much better. I’ve got more breath,” David Clewell said. “I really like the fact that my clothes, my skin, my hands are not wreaking of cigarettes.”
The Clewells say they wonder what the government is up to. So does Woessner, who met Patricia Clewell through groups that used e-cigarettes.
Woessner said an initial device with supplies costs $75 to $100 and that supplies can cost $40 to $50 a month. A pack of cigarettes might cost $4.50.
One starter kit advertised on the Internet included a pack, two batteries, an atomizer, a charger and 25 cartridges equal to 150 cigarettes. It sold for $59.95. Five additional cartridges equaling 30 cigarettes sold for $5.
Woessner expects to vape for years to come, but at a level with very little nicotine.
“This is something the government should be pushing for, a clean way of allowing people to smoke,” Woessner said.
“I feel their pain,” she said. “We don’t know if this is any better for them.”
By Jim Merkel