No easy answer on 'E-cigarettes'

By Carol Seminara • Guest Columnist— Two weeks ago, my husband and I were attending a play in San Antonio when an audience member in the next section seemingly lit up and began puffing away.

 A shocked usher materialized — smoking in an enclosed theatre in Texas is a Class C misdemeanor and subject to up to $500 in fines — and was informed by the fellow that he was “vaping.” Nonetheless, the management wasn’t having any of it, and the fellow was instructed to turn off his alternate nicotine delivery device.

Maybe the theater patron wasn’t trying to look hip; maybe he just needed another hit of nicotine.

Found naturally in tobacco, nicotine is an alkaloid, having both a sedative (psychodynamic) and a stimulant (pharmacologic) effect on the body. When inhaled, nicotine travels through the blood/brain barrier causing temporary feelings of stress relief and relaxation by enhancing the brain’s dopamine flow. It also stimulates the central nervous system’s fight or flight response by increasing heart rate and heart muscle oxygen consumption rate.

Nicotine is so highly addictive that the American Lung Association says nicotine (from smoking tobacco) is one of the hardest substances to quit, putting it on a par with heroin or cocaine addiction.

Introduced into the United States in 2007 by a company named “Runyun,” Chinese for “like smoke,” e-cigs are a booming business, surpassing $1 billion in sales in 2013. E-cigarette sales are predicted to reach $3 million by next year, according to Citigroup. That’s a lot of money for an alternate nicotine delivery system.

Along with good revenues, e-cigs are less expensive to produce — they cost about a third of the cost of manufacturing traditional cigarettes, said Andries Verleur, CEO and co-founder of V2 Cigs, which claims to be the world’s largest online e-cig retailer.

Big returns on investment and a more efficient delivery system are two reasons so-called Big Tobacco is getting into the industry. Reynolds American, the second-largest tobacco manufacturer in the U.S., already has an electronic cigarette arm, R.J. Reynolds Vapor Co., whose Vuse “digital vapor cigarette” served as the “official e-cig” at last week’s South by Southwest Festival in Austin.

Vaping is a trending topic and has found its way to Fredericksburg where we have an abundance of cartridges, “pens” and other e-cig gadgets available at a wide range of outlets, although proof-of-age over 18 is required here.

E-cigarettes — a.k.a. personal vaporizer, vape pipes, hookah pens — use a battery to heat a cartridge filled with liquid nicotine, pharmaceutical-grade propylene glycol (PG), water and/or flavors in a vaporizing chamber. (Generally considered a safe chemical additive for use in food and a wide-range of common household products, PG delivers the atomized nicotine at a low temperature and provides a visual component to the exhale.)

The user inhales the nicotine-filled vapor and exhales, not secondhand smoke, but secondhand PG vapor that quickly dissipates. There’s no fire, no “smoking,” and, so the argument goes, no danger.

Electronic Nicotine Delivery System (ENDS), another name/acronym for e-cigs, makes it clear that these devices are constructed solely for the purpose of delivering nicotine, yet the industry remains unmonitored and untested, with no minimum standards for safety or effectiveness. Electronic cigarettes are not regulated by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nor are they subject to U.S. tobacco laws because they do not contain “tobacco products.” (Nicotine doesn’t count and, like alcohol, isn’t a “controlled” substance.)

For the rest of this guest column, read this week’s print and online editions of the Fredericksburg Standard-Radio Post. If you are a print subscriber, your full online subscription is free. All you need to do is call 830-997-2155 to get a password. If you are not a subscriber, call 997-2155 or click on the ‘Subscribe’ button on the left side of the home page and sign up today!


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