Weighing the pros and cons of e-cigarettes and why more research needs to be done

BALTIMORE - Julia Louis-Dryfus used one in a skit during the Golden Globes.  Stars like Leonardo DiCaprio and Katherine Heigl have been photographed using them.  E-cigarettes are exploding in popularity, which has anti-smoking advocates very concerned.

E-cigs and vapors have ignited fierce debates over whether these devices are safe to use and have any smoking cessation benefits.  Most health experts will agree there isn’t enough research and studies available to say for sure if e-cigs and vapors are good or bad for us.  But that isn’t stopping people from weighing in on the subject.

Shawn Bowser recently opened up a store in Ellicott City called Kahuna Vapor.  He started selling vapors out of his home, and when business started booming, he decided to open a store with some friends.  “We were definitely hoping for it to be good and it’s exceeded our expectations,” said Bowser.

E-cigarettes vaporize a mixture of nicotine, food additives and liquid flavors.  Smokers can control the amount of nicotine they use or don’t have to use any nicotine at all.  Sam Rogers, a manager at Kahuna Vapor, said he likes that he can continue the physical act of smoking without inhaling thousands of chemicals.

“I can use it the same amount because there’s less nicotine in it, so I use it the same amount as I started, but I’m using less nicotine every time,” Rogers said.

One of the biggest debates over e-cigs is how effective they are at getting people to cut back or quit smoking.  Eric Dean, of Baltimore, said he use to smoke a pack a day for 20 years.  He said he had no intentions of quitting but he didn’t like the unhealthy side effects.  When he heard about e-cigs, he decided to buy a starter kit.

“I can climb steps, I can walk.  I wouldn’t be able to walk a quarter mile without dying,” Dean said.

But not everyone is convinced e-cigs are good smoking cessation method.  Dr. Donald Shell is the director of the Cancer and Cardiac Bureau for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.  He says there isn’t enough data to support the idea that e-cigs are an effective tool in the fight against smoking.  “Someone may enter with the e-cig, but if they really want to get that nicotine burst, they’re going to enter electric and transition to burning,” he said.  “More people end up using tobacco devices.”

Another concern among anti-smoking advocates is how attractive e-cigs are becoming to teens.  A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the number of middle and high school students who use e-cigs doubled from 2011 to 2012.  Dr. Shell says the variety of flavors makes the devices seem kid-friendly and puts teens down a dangerous, unhealthy path.  “We do see more youth are starting to use nicotine products and becoming addicted to nicotine because of e-cigs,” he said.

Bowser said he doesn’t want anyone to start smoking when they use e-cigs.  He has lost family and friends to cancer because of smoking and wants his customers to avoid the same fate.

“It’s a great feeling when someone comes to you and tells you they smoked 3 packs a day, and they come back a week later and say they had half a pack, if any cigarettes at all.”

The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate e-cigarettes but is getting pressure from state legislatures to act.  According to its website, only e-cigarettes that are marketed for therapeutic purposes are regulated by the FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.  

Many cities are also trying to ban e-cigs.  Delegate Aruna Miller of Maryland is proposing a bill in the General Assembly to prohibit the use of e-cigarettes where traditional burning cigarettes are already prohibited.


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