E-smokes catch regulators' eye
CHICAGO — Jay Altman smoked cigarettes for 25 years before deciding a few months ago that for the sake of his wallet and his health, a change was in order.
But Altman didn't quit — he switched.
The insurance worker swapped his daily pack and a half of smokes for the vanilla-flavored nicotine aerosol of an electronic cigarette. He feels better these days, he said, and not just because he's saving more than $100 a week.
“My friends have noticed a difference,” Altman said while sampling assorted flavors at Smoque Vapours, an e-cigarette shop in the Loop. “They'll say, ‘You smell good,' instead of, ‘You stink.' ”
The fast-growing e-cigarette industry has hitched its future to such testimonials, pitching its product as a safer and cheaper alternative to tobacco cigarettes. So far, the business has escaped the reach of regulators, but from Washington to the Chicago suburbs, that is changing quickly.
The Food and Drug Administration appears poised to label e-cigarettes a “tobacco product,” a distinction that would give the agency power over their marketing, manufacture and sale. Mundelein, Ill., about 35 miles northwest of Chicago, just passed an ordinance banning the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone younger than 18, and on Jan. 1, a similar law will take effect statewide.
Evanston, meanwhile, has gone even further, banning the use of e-cigarettes anywhere smoking is prohibited.
“There hasn't been a whole lot of long-term research on this, but we really wanted to make sure we were on the front end to protect our residents,” said Carl Caneva, assistant director of Evanston's health department.
The lack of regulation has turned e-cigarettes into a commercial Wild West, where basement chemists and giant corporations alike concoct mixtures that taste like everything from peach schnapps to Mountain Dew. The novel flavors concern anti-smoking advocates, who note that teen e-cigarette use recently doubled within a single year.
“I don't think that there's any question that flavors appeal to young people,” said Danny McGoldrick of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “It's just another way to help introduce them to the habit.”
Researchers aren't sure of all the chemicals released by the products, but some say there's ample reason for worry. The American Lung Association, which favors strict regulation, cites a study that found chemicals such as formaldehyde and acetone in exhaled e-cigarette vapor.
“We're very concerned because we don't know what's in e-cigarettes or what the health consequences of them might be,” said Erika Sward, the lung association's assistant vice president for national advocacy. “Frankly, until the FDA begins its oversight of these products, I think everyone needs to proceed very cautiously.”
E-cigarettes use tiny atomizers to turn nicotine-infused liquids into an aerosol, which is inhaled by the user. They've been sold in the United States since the mid-2000s, but the Electronic Cigarette Industry Group says sales have boomed, turning the gadgets into a $2 billion a year business.
The group's president, Eric Criss, said e-cigarettes are intended to be a safer alternative for people who already smoke.
“We feel very strongly that we not be taxed and regulated as a tobacco product because our goal as an industry is to distinguish ourselves from traditional tobacco cigarettes,” he said. “We believe there's a ladder of harm. Cigarettes are at the top of that, and our goal is to get people to move down that ladder.”
The science behind that claim is far from settled. The industry points to research — some of it funded by e-cigarette interests — that shows the products to be less risky to users, sometimes called “vapers,” and bystanders alike. Robert West, a health psychology professor at University College London, maintains that a global switch from tobacco cigarettes to atomized nicotine would save millions of lives a year.
Stanton Glantz, director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research & Education at the University of California at San Francisco, agreed that e-cigarettes appear to be less harmful than tobacco but said they're hardly risk-free.
He said most smokers don't give up tobacco cigarettes entirely when they use electronic ones, so their health doesn't improve much. And while bystanders aren't exposed to secondhand smoke, he said, initial research shows that they're still inhaling nicotine, an addictive substance, along with toxic chemicals and ultrafine particles that can cause heart problems.
“Just because someone chooses to service their (nicotine) addiction by using an e-cigarette, that still doesn't create a right for them to poison people in the neighborhood,” Glantz said.
The FDA says a federal appeals court has given it the power to regulate e-cigarettes as though they are tobacco products. The agency has a proposed regulation in the works.
Many states are waiting for that to happen before deciding whether to incorporate e-cigarettes into smoking bans, but Glantz argues that new rules could take years to finalize and aren't necessary for states to tighten their clean air laws.
Three states — North Dakota, New Jersey and Utah — include e-cigarettes in their smoking bans, and about 100 cities and counties nationwide have taken similar steps, according to the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation.
But Melaney Arnold, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health, said the research on e-cigarettes' secondhand effects is too preliminary to act upon.
“It's still evolving, and it will still (take) time until we know the total health effects,” she said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Small retailers at intersection of social networks, foot traffic
- 153-year-old Venango well pumps out oil, history
- Woman on dating site looks too good to be true: How to vet that pic
- Test-tube tuna may be sea change
- In ‘StockCity,’ real investing like game
- Business Council for Peace program works to export profits, peace
- Iron ore price decline hurts U.S. Steel’s cost advantage over rivals
- Pennsylvania unemployment rate drops to six-year low
- Ford: Aluminum-body truck to get 26 mpg
- Westmoreland County’s Excela Health rethinks patient debts
- Variable-rate electricity contracts in Pennsylvania can cost customers plenty