Whether the “skyrocketing” use of electronic cigarettes can help smokers quit tobacco use or lure youth and adults back to nicotine is a question up for debate locally.
By Jim Newton | March 24th, 2016
Lea Bacci, an assistant addiction prevention coordinator with the Lake County Health Department, said that a Centers for Disease Control study from 2011 through 2015 found that e-cigarette use by youth had tripled during that time period. Bacci said that is discouraging, especially at a time when youth smoking has been trending downward.
Bacci said one concern is a perception among some that electronic cigarettes don’t contain nicotine. Non-nicotine e-cigarette liquid is available, but most e-liquids do have nicotine at varying levels.
“E-cigarettes may contain nicotine in unregulated quantities. There is nicotine in them,” Bacci said. “The risk of addiction is one of the most important things to think about, especially with youth.”
Electronic cigarettes or vape pens are battery-powered devices, most substantially larger than cigarettes, that heat a liquid into a vapor for inhalation. The term “vaping” is commonly used to describe the use of electronic cigarettes and smoking devices.
Bacci said the practice is attractive to youth because some vapor can be essentially odorless and is often undetectable to adults. Kids who are using e-cigarettes will not arrive at school or come home smelling of cigarettes.
But some local vape-shop owners said recently that some of their customers began vaping to quit cigarettes and eliminate the harmful effects of breathing in combustible smoke.
“One of the biggest driving forces (that brings customers to vape shops) is that they are trying to quit smoking,” said Steven Hayes, manager of Vape Scene in Gurnee.
Bacci said that despite claims that vaping is safer than regular cigarette smoking, the number of toxic chemicals involved and their possible long-term effects remain unknown.
“It’s too early. We don’t know what else is in them,” she said. “The Surgeon General’s Office has a little information, but it takes time to do long-term assessments.”
Likewise, there is not much information on any potential negative effects that second-hand vapor could have on people, Bacci said.
Charlene Craft, owner of Hayze Vape in downtown Waukegan, said she has had a steadily growing customer base since opening last summer. Craft said she personally does not smoke and uses an e-cigarette device with liquid that contains no nicotine.
“I vape zero (nicotine free) because it relaxes you,” she said.
But Craft said she believes the vaping option helps some people stop smoking by providing an activity that is similar without the annoying and dangerous smoke from regular cigarettes.
Craft, who runs the store with partner Jason Friedrich, said “the majority” of her customers use liquids with some nicotine, with 3 milligrams, the lowest option, being the most popular level, followed by 6 milligrams. She said her shop also sells liquid with 0, 12, 18 and 24 milligrams of nicotine.
Starter kits range from about $20 to $40, as well as higher-level models with more power that are more expensive and that she recommends only for people who are already accustomed to vaping.
“Someone starting shouldn’t start with something powerful,” Craft said.
Chris Wright of New Orleans, currently stationed at Naval Station Great Lakes as a Navy corpsman, stopped into Hayze Vape recently to buy some solution for his vaping device. He said he has been vaping for about four years, and that it is gaining popularity on the base — although he added that, like cigarettes, e-cigarette use is not allowed in buildings and many other areas of the base. He said he follows those guidelines.
Wright also said vaping helped him quit his cigarette habit. He said he uses a low-level nicotine solution, and has noticed the difference physically since quitting regular cigarettes.
“I used to get that pressure in your chest that smokers have,” he said.
Research in the American Journal of Presentative Medicine, based on a team study led by a CDC cigarette specialist, shows that in 2015, a sharp decline in sales of regular cigarettes in previous years had slowed, but the sale of e-cigarettes, which the journal says also pose health hazards, was “skyrocketing.”
“A majority of adult e-cigarette users report current cigarette smoking,” the authors reported. “For adult smokers to benefit from e-cigarettes, they must completely quit combusted tobacco.”