E-cigarette: a safe alternative?
Debate smolders on whether the e-cigarette is the answer to heavy smokers' questions about what can help them quit. While some who have broken the habit say the e-cigarettes help, others, such as scientists evaluating them, say "no."
LAS CRUCES, N.M. -- Mike Sussman takes a scientific approach to the task of quitting smoking. That's not surprising because Sussman, 34, is a research assistant in the New Mexico State University Department of Astronomy, where he is earning his PhD.Sussman, who said he smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for more than 10 years, is quitting by using the e-cigarette. "When I started 10 months ago, my nicotine level was 20 milligrams per milliliter of liquid, which is equivalent to about a pack of cigarettes," he said. "Now I'm down to 6 milligrams per milliliter." The electronic cigarette, or e-cigarette, is a battery powered device that vaporizes e-juice -- usually a nicotine-based, flavored liquid. The smoker then exhales water vapor. Just a month ago, an appellate court decision ruled that the Food and Drug Administration can regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products, but not as aids to quit smoking. That ruling was good one, according to Dave Spargo, one of the managing members of JJDS Electronic Cigarettes LLC in Rio Rancho, which owns the KnockOutVapor.com kiosk in the Mesilla Valley Mall. "It is a tobacco product, and I don't think anyone should start on our product who is not a smoker," Spargo said. "We do not claim that it helps people to stop smoking. However, I can refer you to hundreds of customers who will tell you that the e-cigarette has helped them to give up smoking regular cigarettes. That's their claim, not our claim." The main thing, Spargo said, is that e-cigarettes do not contain any of the more than 490 carcinogens found in regular cigarettes. "Imagine if there was a pizza that doesn't have any calories," he said. Spargo said four members of his family who had a combined 100 years' of cigarette smoking between them have all made the transition to the e-cigarette. Also, he said, the e-juice he sells is made in the United States with ingredients all approved by the USDA. The flavors are made with kosher-grade ingredients. Department of Health: Not a safe alternative The sudden rise in popularity of the e-cigarette greatly troubles Mary Ballard, 38, who has spent more than a decade fighting tobacco use as southwest field coordinator for the New Mexico Department of Health Tobacco Use, Prevention and Control Program. "Anytime anyone is quitting smoking, that's good," said Ballard, who is based in Dona Ana. "But people are putting their health at risk when they use e-cigarettes. They are not a safe alternative." Ballard's major concern with the e-cigarette is that it has not not been tested or monitored by the Food and Drug Administration, and therefore its health effects, both long-term and short-term, are unknown. "The preliminary data we have is that there may be some toxins in the chemicals 1/8of the e-juice3/8," she said. "We also know that nicotine is a vasoconstrictor -- it increases your chances of having a stroke. If you have heart disease, it increases your risk of heart attack. It can also activate underlying chronic disease." At full strength, she said, there's enough nicotine in a bottle of e-juice to kill a child, she said. The better way to quit is through medically tested, regulated means such as those offered by the state of New Mexico at (800) QUIT-NOW, she said. "We offer a range of methods from gum, patches and lozenges to nicotine inhalers, for people who are having trouble getting over the oral fixation," she said. "The products are safe, they're free, and people can go to either La Clinica de la Familia or the Ben Archer Clinic for help. They don't have to go through it alone." Ballard cautioned that at present, e-cigarettes do not contain a health warning because of lack of regulation, not because the product has been proven harmless. In a document she prepared from Department of Health sources, Ballard stated that consumers currently have no way of knowing 1.) whether e-cigarettes are safe for their intended use, or 2.) what types or concentrations of potentially harmful chemicals, or what amount of nicotine, they are inhaling when they use these products. A recent study found that some samples of e-juice made in China were found to have trace amounts of a chemical used in antifreeze, she said.
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