SAN DIEGO, November 11, 2013 – All the cool kids are doing it. Should you?
The use of electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes, also referred to as “vaping,” is suddenly a smoking hot trend, fueled by the recent visibility of numerous celebrities including Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Ryan Seacrest among others. Actress Katherine Heigl even convinced talk show host David Letterman to give her rig a try on a recent appearance on “Late Night.”
For those unfamiliar, electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid-filled cartridge, allowing the user to inhale the aerosol vapor. The components of the blend vary. They typically include nicotine, propylene glycol or glycerol to produce the aerosol, and various flavorings, which range from mint to fruits to even chocolate.
Some e-cigarettes mimic the look of the real thing, with a tip that glows when the user inhales. Others have a futuristic high tech look, something like a miniature light saber from “Star Wars.” They come in enough colors and various bling options to turn them into a fashion accessory.
The devices were first introduced into the general market about 10 years ago, but improved second generation devices produced by the tobacco companies who’ve seen the writing on the wall as well as the vapor in the air have jumpstarted vaping’s popularity. Lorillard, which manufactures several brands of cigarettes including Kent, Newport and True, controls about half the vaping market in the U.S., thanks in part to its aggressive advertising featuring Jenny McCarthy. E-cigarettes now account for four percent of its total revenue. Reynolds American and Altria also have a significant presence in the vaping marketplace.
Starter vaping kits run under $100, but high end vaping pens can cost as much as $1,000. Some users collect them and have different models they select day to day just as they choose a pair of shoes to go with the rest of their attire.
Vaping has been big in Southern California for several years, and the trend is now spreading, fueled by the visibility of famous faces puffing away.
The Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association estimates that four million Americans now use the battery-powered cigarettes. Sales of the devices are expected to exceed $1 billion by the end of this year. It’s the best news for Big Tobacco in a long time.
The use of e-cigarettes has spawned its own culture including dedicated retail vape shops and even vaping bars, similar to hookah bars in some regions where patrons can freely indulge in their e-cigarettes in a social setting.
Fans of e-cigarettes say they are an effective way to stop smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes. Users can taper off their intake of nicotine to a fraction of what they were previously consuming, without ingesting the tars and other dangerous additives in cigarettes. Some say they’ve tried patches, gum, and counseling without success before finally kicking their habit with e-cigarettes.
Critics say e-cigarettes encourage minors to smoke, and point out they are far from nicotine free. They believe the devices will eventually lead many young users to try tobacco cigarettes and develop a nicotine habit they wouldn’t have pursued otherwise. Harold P. Wimmer, president and CEO of the American Lung Association, said the organization is “very concerned that e-cigarettes with flavors like cotton candy and bubble gum are being marketed to kids, which could result in a lifelong addiction to nicotine.”
The Center for Disease Control’s 2012 National Youth Tobacco Survey found that 10 percent of high school students have tried vaping at some point, 1.78 million people. This is double the previous year. One-third of these users are regular users. What alarms the CDC is that regular tobacco use nearly doubled during this time period as well. How much is attributable to the “starter” factor created by e-cigarettes is unclear.
There is currently no regulation of e-cigarettes by the Food and Drug Administration as there is over tobacco products. It is illegal to sell e-cigarettes devices to minors. It is legal in most states including California to use an e-cigarette indoors, but users say they are careful where they choose to indulge their new habit. Many school districts and local governments are extending current smoking bans to e-cigarettes.
Public health officials and governments say they don’t know what they don’t know about e-cigarettes, saying that more research is needed and regulation may be needed similar to existing tobacco use laws. School districts are putting specific bans on e-cigarettes in place, and local governments are beginning to restrict their use in ways similar to traditional cigarettes.
The European Parliament recently refused to classify and regulate e-cigarettes like other nicotine delivery systems including patches, to the dismay of the companies which manufacture them andt he delight of e-cigarette users in Europe who voiced strong opposition to the regulations.
One truth must be acknowledged: In a 2010 CDC survey, over two thirds of all traditional cigarette smokers said they wanted to quit. Fifty-two percent said they had tried to quit. But just 6.2 percent of smokers who have tried to quit were eventually successful, less than one out of ten. Smokers who used e-cigarettes to quit smoking tobacco reported a 96 percent success rate. If this is anywhere close to being accurate, e-cigarettes could be the tool health experts and society have desperately sought to try and lower the number of deaths attributed to cigarette smoking in the U.S. and worldwide.
Professor John Britton of the Royal College of Physicians in Great Britain says “If all the smokers in Britain stopped smoking cigarettes and started smoking e-cigarettes we would save five million deaths in people who are alive today.”
This should not signal the relaxation of laws protecting nonsmokers from being subjected to unwelcome vapors in the atmosphere. A vaping bar can look like the fog just rolled in off San Francisco Bay. But the cost to society from cigarette smoking demands that the potential of e-cigarettes be fully explored.
Let’s bear in mind also at a time when our economy isn’t all that healthy that Big Tobacco generates a tremendous amount of revenue, jobs, and taxes. Finding an alternative marketplace that allows these companies to stay in business selling a product that might cut down on cigarette production nothing but positive.
The CDC and FDA both say they will continue to explore ways to increase monitoring and research on e-cigarettes, with particular attention to developing strategies to prevent the use of e-cigarettes among minors.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. Read her regular columns Media Migraine and Ringside Seat in Communities at The Washington Times. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego. Gayle can be reached via Google +
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