Thursday, July 4, 2013

With e-cigarettes, where vapors rise, so does debate

The Sacramento Bee
Jack Newsham
July 4, 2013

With names such as Vapor City and BJz Vape Shop, new businesses popping up around Sacramento make clear they're not selling old-fashioned smokes.

These vendors hawk electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, whose sales have skyrocketed in the past few years. E-cigarette enthusiasts call themselves vapers, and many view "vaping" as a benign alternative to actual smoking – albeit one that still delivers a nicotine kick.

Legislators and health advocates aren't convinced.

State Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, has introduced legislation that would treat e-cigarettes – which use a battery to vaporize a solution of fogging agents, flavors and nicotine when the user drags on them or presses a button – like cigarettes and ban them from restaurants, schools and workplaces.

Opponents of Corbett's legislation, which include makers of e-cigarettes, say lumping them in with their traditional counterparts makes no sense. The California Association of Alcohol/Drug Educators, a group that accredits addiction counselors and their training programs, has endorsed the use of e-cigarettes to help people quit smoking, and has announced its opposition to SB 648.

Several studies also suggest e-cigarette vapor is safe for users and those around them. A Swiss study earlier this year concluded that liquid used in e-cigarettes was accurately labeled and that impurities in the vapor were unlikely to be harmful. A Polish study released in March found toxins such as formaldehyde and lead at far lower levels than those in cigarette smoke.
Jan Parcel of Cupertino spoke against Corbett's bill during a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. She's a vaper and a volunteer with the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association, or CASAA, a nonprofit group that claims more than 4,000 members nationwide.

In response to a 2011 FDA study that found nicotine in secondhand vapor, Parcel said that chili peppers and tomatoes contain some nicotine, too.

What about other toxic chemicals? Parcel pointed out that nonstick pans and fried foods also have been found to contain carcinogens.

Parcel argued that e-cigarettes are a consumer product and shouldn't be regulated like a tobacco product. "Coffee varies wildly in caffeine, but I don't see anyone saying that Starbucks has to be regulated," she said.

CASAA doesn't reveal where its money comes from, other than to say the majority of its donations are made by e-cigarette users through the group's website. Carl Phillips, the group's scientific director, said in an interview he has received funding from tobacco companies, and said working with the companies themselves is the best way to reduce the harm of tobacco.

"You gotta go where the money and the power and the marketing ability are," he said. "To maintain some sense of purity at the expense of practicality – well, people are dying in the meantime."

Phillips said smokeless options such as e-cigarettes are "the single most potentially beneficial public health innovation in the Western world."

Such alternatives pose "so close to zero risk that it hardly matters," comparable to occasionally breathing exhaust fumes while walking on the street, he said.

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