As the debate over the electronic cigarette continues , the device has found at least three true believers in Jackson County.
Mildred “Mikay” Barrentine, 30, along with Pat Manning, 37, and 45-year-old Linda Lockwood, the latter two of Altha, are enthusiastic about the e-cigarette. All three are long-time heavy smokers who have given up traditional cigarettes in favor of “vaping,” users’ common term for this alternative to smoking.
Although e-cigarettes are not marketed or proven in studies as a smoke cessation device, all three say it has worked for them.
They breathe better and cough less. They also food tastes better, and they can smell it better, too, because they are no longer using tobacco with tar and the hundreds of chemicals contained in regular cigarettes.
Their clothes no longer get the tiny holes that flying sparks from cigarettes can ignite, and they no longer have to worry about burning holes in the carpet or their cars, since there’s no ash and fire waiting to fall onto the floorboard while they’re driving.
They spend relatively less on vaping than they spent on cigarettes, they say.
They also no longer have to leave the comfort of indoors at public places to enjoy a drag - at least for now.
That could change as the nation grapples with how to regulate the devices. Whether they should be considered permissible in “smoke free” environments is part of that discussion.
The Food and Drug Administration says not enough is known about the health effects of the devices, and the FDA has in the past seized some shipments coming from China in an attempt to regulate them as drug-delivery devices. The FDA also wants to regulate their marketing techniques, and wants to know more about quality controls.
But the agency suffered a setback in January, when a judge ruled the FDA hasn’t got the authority to do so under present regulations. The judge ruled the devices should be treated like cigarettes, which are sold over the counter at almost every convenience store and in many other venues throughout the country. They are not considered a drug-delivery device, the judge reasoned.
“There is no basis for FDA to treat electronic cigarettes … as a drug-device combination when all they purport to do is offer consumers the same recreational effects as a regular cigarette,” U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon wrote in his decision.
“FDA cites no evidence that (e-cigarettes) … are any more an immediate threat to public health and safety than traditional cigarettes, which are readily available,” he continued.
Regular cigarettes carry a Surgeon General’s warning, something e-cigarettes are not subject to at present.
At least some self-governing providers, however, do place warnings on their devices advising that they’re not for children, pregnant women or non-smokers, but rather for those who already smoke and want an alternative.
The FDA did gain traction on another point, however, which will likely put e-cigarettes back under its regulatory wing soon.
The agency was recently given authority to demand that cigarette makers disclose what is in their tobacco products, and the authority to study them determine exactly what’s in them. Based on some cigarette manufacturers’ disclosures in the 1990s, it has been widely reported that cigarettes can contain almost 600 chemicals.
The FDA had done some preliminary tests of a few e-cigarettes back when they were being seized, and has issued a statement.
In a July 2009 agency news release, the FDA warned the public about the devices.
“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today announced that a laboratory analysis of electronic cigarette samples has found that they contain carcinogens and toxic chemicals such as diethylene glycol, an ingredient used in antifreeze,” the FDA wrote.
“These products are marketed and sold to young people and are readily available online and in shopping malls,” the release continued. “In addition, these products do not contain any health warnings comparable to FDA-approved nicotine replacement products or conventional cigarettes. They are also available in different flavors, such as chocolate and mint, which may appeal to young people.”
FDA also pointed out that, while the food-flavoring ingredient has been found safe for that use, the effect when inhaled as a vapor hasn’t been studied.
Those who oppose the devices say they fear smokers will not give up traditional cigarettes but will simply augment or replace their old habit with a new smoking alternative, increasing the amount of nicotine they use and therefore their health risks.
Barrentine, Manning and Lockwood reacted to those statements, saying that the manufacturers market to adults, not children, and in fact have statements on their cartridges which say e-cigarettes are not meant for kids.
As for the chemicals found in the FDA’s limited testing, the women say traditional cigarettes have those chemicals and a host more. E-cigarettes, they say, are infinitely safer than regular cigarettes, and should be left available for those who want a less dangerous puff.
All three said they’d most likely go back to regular cigarettes if e-cigarettes are pulled from the market.
They say they’re not tempted in the least to use regular cigarettes while this is available, and are even repulsed by the smell and taste of their old habit.
Barrentine, who closely follows online forums, said she has yet to find comments about any side effects. She thinks her chances of coming to harm with e-cigarettes is far less than if she were still smoking.
There are many variations, and Barrentine prefers the “silver bullet” version that delivers more vapor per puff than the more traditional-looking type. She makes her own flavored nicotine juice, instead of buying cartridges, and “tailpipes” it by squeezing drops straight into the atomizer.
Manning and Lockwood also use similar, less traditional devices, but Manning also uses the more traditional e-cigarette as well.
In the ones that look most like a cigarette, the main body of the device is actually a 3.5-volt rechargeable battery encased in a cylinder about the size of a cigarette. A short metal atomizer, about the size of a filter, is screwed into it. A mostly hollow cartridge, of the same shape but slighter bigger than the atomizer, contains an amount of liquid nicotine, propylene glycol (a substance used in food coloring), and flavoring.
The cartridge, which has a small opening, slips over the vaporizer like a glove. It resembles the filter-end of a cigarette. The user sucks air through the opening, an action which sends voltage to the battery and activates the atomizer. An element in the atomizer get hot, and brings the warmed air to the cartridge, which turns the liquid nicotine into a vapor.
The user expels the vapor, which resembles smoke but doesn’t smell or behave like it. The vapor quickly dissipates, and does not create as much volume compared to the amount of smoke generated by a burning cigarette.
The smell of the vapor depends on the type of flavoring used — and there are many, ranging from chocolate to coffee. The smell is detectible only briefly and at close range. The end of the battery, like the end of a cigarette, lights up while the user is inhaling, but no combustion is used in the process.
Several different views of the e-cigarette can be found by searching the term online.
The local health department has weighed in, as well. Adrian Abner, Tobacco Prevention Specialist with the Jackson County Health Department, said his agency takes the position that no nicotine is safe and advocates total cessation.
The health department provides FDA-approved cessation aids free of charge, he said, along with full support to help people quit.
He cited the FDA report as one reason for the health department’s concerns about the devices, beyond the fact that they deliver nicotine.
“There is help out there for quitting completely,” Abner said. “That includes free nicotine replacement therapy for those who wish to quit. We can order these and provide cessastion services.”
Abner said county residents wanting to quit can call or e-mail the health department to participate. They can also call 1-877-UCAN-NOW, or visit http://www.floridaquitline.com.
Abner’s number is 526-2412, ext. 188.
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Copyright (c) 2010, Jackson County Floridan, Marianna, Fla.
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