E-cigarettes: Healthy alternative or addictive concern?

Electronic cigarettes were invented in the 1960s, but have only recently become popular in the U.S. Unlike regular cigarettes, they are not currently regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

Ryan Anderson

For several years, medical professionals and health care workers have researched the effects cigarettes have on the human body.

But the tobacco industry has come up with a new tobacco-free, battery-powered cigarette whose health effects are not as thoroughly researched by the Food and Drug Administration.

“It is a product that has the same nicotine drug that is in tobacco smokes,” said Dr. Jay Brown, specialist in allergy and immunology at McFarland Clinic in Ames.

To date, there are approximately 250 brands of electronic cigarettes. According to the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, 4 million Americans now use electronic cigarettes.

E-cigarettes have liquid nicotine in them that turns into the vapor that is inhaled, according to Blu Cigs company. Nicotine is the addictive component of all kinds of cigarettes.

“A lot of the particulates and other things that are involved in the combustion of tobacco leaves aren’t in these e-cigarettes,” Brown said.

According to the American Lung Association, the lack of tobacco and other chemicals that exist in electronic cigarettes are the reason electronic cigarettes are a controversial topic today. 

“A big concern is that they are not regulated,”said Dr. Cosette Scallon, physician at the Thielen Student Health Center. “Kids are smoking them.” 

The FDA has not regulated e-cigarettes yet. This means there is not a lot known about the products nor is there an age restriction on purchasing them.

“They have done studies that show that of kids who are smoking e-cigarettes: 75 percent of them are also smoking regular cigarettes,” Scallon said.

Since e-cigarettes do not have the same toxic chemicals as regular cigarettes, the selling point for companies is that they are the healthy cigarettes.

The company Blu Cigs has Jenny McCarthy endorsing the product, saying: “Freedom to have a cigarette without the guilt.”

While the product does not have tobacco in it, the American Lung Association said it has doubts on the selling points.

According to a news release given out by the Association, there is no government or FDA oversight of the products. This means that there is no way for the public, medical and consumer communities to know what chemicals and toxins are contained in e-cigarettes.

“I’m hoping that the city of Ames will outlaw these e-cigarettes,” Brown said. Brown is on the Youth and Shelter Services Board, which is working on regulation of the products.

Electronic cigarettes have a financial advantage over regular cigarettes. According to the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, it is only $30 to $100 for an e-cigarette starter kit, while it is about $1,000 a year for a pack-a-day smoker.

Scallon said that because they are less expensive, e-cigarettes might contribute to a younger consumer audience. The products come in many colors, flavors and designs. Consumers can pick and choose what they want out of the e-cigarette.

“They market using things that would appeal to younger kids,” Scallon said.

Brown said children and young adults who smoke cigarettes at an earlier age are more likely to develop sever addiction to nicotine.