This week, the Oxford Dictionary named “vape” the 2014 word of the year, marking the rise of a billion-dollar electronic-cigarette industry.
Manufacturers market electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs, as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes. E-cigs have varying levels of nicotine, and some manufacturers even make nicotine-free cartridges.
Today, the American Cancer Society is promoting the Great American Smokeout to encourage smokers to quit, but health-care workers are skeptical that e-cigs are the answer.
Dr. Jeannine Hinds, a physician at John C. Lincoln Health Network’s Arcadia Family Clinic, said lack of long-term research makes it hard for doctors to identify the potential dangers of e-cigarettes. She said it’s also hard to gauge if they can actually help smokers quit.
“People aren’t ready to quit, so they’re looking at safer alternatives,” she said.
E-cig supporters believe that e-cigs can help smokers quit by weaning them off tobacco while still satisfying their nicotine craving.
The popularity of “vaping,” the act of inhaling and exhaling the vapor produced by an electronic cigarette, has galvanized the tobacco industry, prompting big-brand tobacco companies to follow suit by manufacturing the devices. Bloomberg estimates that electronic-cigarette sales could reach $1.5 billion this year in the U.S. alone.
Electronic cigarettes are battery-operated devices that deliver nicotine without the tobacco and smoke produced by a traditional cigarette. The device heats the chemicals and converts the contents of the cartridge into vapor, which then is inhaled.
A study done in England found that smokers who were trying to quit were more likely to succeed by using electronic cigarettes than by using nicotine patches or gum, according to a New York Times article published in May.
The survey of 6,000 smokers said a fifth of e-cigarette users had been able quit traditional cigarettes, compared with a tenth of nicotine-patch or gum users.
Hinds said that, in terms of secondhand smoke, e-cigarettes are safer. But water vapor isn’t the only thing e-cigs produce.
E-cigs can also contain unsafe solvents and carcinogenic chemicals, Hinds said, and the intense heat can change the composition of those liquids and make them more dangerous.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that as of February, poison-control centers were receiving 215 calls per month involving e-cigarettes. Users have reported oral irritation and chemical burns to the mouth and lungs.
Data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey showed that e-cig use among middle- and high-school students increased from 3.3 percent to 6.8 percent from 2011 to 2012.
About 9 percent of students surveyed said they had never tried a traditional cigarette but had used an electronic one, according to the CDC.
The CDC also found that 6 percent — or 14.5 million — adults in the U.S. had used e-cigarettes.
Hinds warned that because of the way e-cigs are marketed and because there is no federal regulation of the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, the devices are reaching a younger audience.
In 2010, the Food and Drug Administration conducted several studies and found there were few quality-control processes in place to manufacture e-cigarettes. Studies revealed that some cartridges marketed as nicotine-free actually contained nicotine and tthat hree different cartridges with the same label contained three different levels of the addictive substance.
As a result of its findings, the FDA issued warning letters to five e-cigarette distributors for violations of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the set of laws that gives the FDA its regulatory powers.
The agency also issued a proposed rule that would allow it to regulate these products.
Public use of these devices is prohibited in some cities.
In August, Tempe became the first city in Arizona to ban the use of e-cigs in public areas after the Tempe City Council voted 5-1 to approve the ordinance.
Ely De La Garza, an employee at Vape on Central, 914 E. Camelback Road, said he’s interested in seeing how the federal government will tackle e-cigarette regulation.
“There’s nothing we can do except fight it,” he said.
De La Garza, who used to smoke traditional cigarettes and switched to e-cigarettes after growing tired of the smoke, said vaping is looked down upon because of the lack of research. He said that it’s his job to educate his customers and that he believes e-cigs help people quit smoking.
“They’re somewhat unconventional and unfamiliar,” he said. “A lot of people get scared of the word ‘nicotine,’ but we get a lot of newcomers who are trying to kick smoking.”
Hinds urged smokers to use nicotine gum or patches, instead of e-cigs, to quit smoking because there is a controlled amount of nicotine.
“Not every puff releases the same amount of nicotine,” she said. “If you’re truly addicted, it’s safer to give you a safe dose of nicotine.”
She also suggested reaching out to the Arizona Smokers’ Helpline, a telephone support network, for tips on how to quit smoking.
vape (vāpe) v.