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Your Health
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While Debate Rages Over Vaping, Safety of e-Juice Additives Emerges as Flashpoint

Public health officials point to presence of a variety of harmful chemicals but proponents insist it’s OK to inhale

To enhance the experience from vaping, electronic cigarette users often turn to e-juice additives in a variety of flavors. Click to view larger
To enhance the experience from vaping, electronic cigarette users often turn to e-juice additives in a variety of flavors. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

[Noozhawk’s note: This article is the second in a series on the use of electronic smoking devices in Santa Barbara County. Click here for the first story and click here for the third.]

Public health officials say the long-term effects of e-cigarettes aren’t yet known, while those who support vaping products maintain they’re significantly safer than traditional cigarettes.

Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the California Department of Public Health, doesn’t mince words, calling electronic cigarettes “a community health threat” in a 2015 health advisory about the practice of ingesting vapor.

Santa Barbara County officials agree.

“The research is formative but there is a substantial body of information that’s demonstrating that caution and health concern is warranted,” Dawn Dunn, coordinator of the Tobacco Prevention Settlement Program under the county Public Health Department, told Noozhawk.

“... That is reason enough to be concerned about putting these substances in your body through your lungs.”

Inhalation of any substances into fragile lung tissue should be questioned, she said, adding that vaping comes with an aerosol component that means fine particulates are being inhaled.

Dunn said the evidence is growing that vaping produces “a variety of substances that are getting into the smoker’s lungs and are also expressed into the air.”

But pro-vaping forces say the products are much safer than inhaling traditional cigarettes.

“We’re estimating the products are somewhere on a order of 99 percent less harmful than smoking,” said Julie Woessner, executive director and board president of the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association, an advocacy organization for the right to use e-cigarettes.

Niko Iverson of Santa Maria says vaping led him to stop smoking traditional cigarettes, a habit he picked under peer pressure at age 16 and then could not stop.

He says tried nicotine patches, chewing toothpicks “and all the things to satisfy the oral fixation, and it never really helped.”

“Vaping came along, I decided to give it a try and sure enough it worked,” said Iverson, who works at Cal State Vape, 401 N. Broadway in Santa Maria.

An added benefit, he says, is that vaping fulfilled his oral fixation habit.

He said he has since cut down on nicotine and doesn’t smoke traditional cigarettes anymore, envisioning a day when he might not even vape.

“We definitely don’t list vaping as a cool thing to do,” Iverson said of the vape shop. “Here we are focused on helping people quit smoking. ... I don’t endorse vaping as this cool new fad to do. I use it because it’s helping me a lot.”

According to Iverson, the benefits have been noticeable.

“At 21 years old, I could barely run at all,” he said. “Now I’m 24 and I feel better than I did when I started smoking when I was 16.”

Yet, public health workers say cigarettes are the deadliest and most disease-producing consumer product on the market.

Under today’s health and safety regulations, Dunn said, cigarettes — as a new product — would never be approved for human consumption.

“Saying something is safer than a cigarette is sort of a strange statement because the cigarette kills more people than AIDS, suicide, homicide, fire, murder, drug abuse and alcohol abuse combined every year,” she said.

Public health officials also say studies have shown that electronic liquid, or “e-juice,” contains chemicals such as nicotine, lead, cadmium, benzene, nickel, formaldehyde and more.

At least 10 of the chemicals emitted in e-juice are included on the voter-approved Proposition 65 list of cancer-causing chemicals, public health officials contend, along with substances that lead to birth defects and other reproductive harms.

As with regular tobacco smoking, vaping sparks concerns about effects of secondhand inhalation.

“These have effects on the human body,” Dunn said. “We know that. And they create indoor pollution. Whether somebody is doing this to themselves, if they’re doing it inside, they’re doing it to others. There’s no question that there’s chemical harm.”

Niko Iverson, an employee of Cal State Vape in Santa Maria, asserts that vaping helped him quit smoking tobacco cigarettes. “Vaping came along, I decided to give it a try and sure enough it worked,” he says. Click to view larger
Niko Iverson, an employee of Cal State Vape in Santa Maria, asserts that vaping helped him quit smoking tobacco cigarettes. “Vaping came along, I decided to give it a try and sure enough it worked,” he says. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Nicotine is a stimulant that has effects on the brain, according to public health officials. As a liquid, it’s considered a pesticide, Dunn added.

Iverson said he isn’t concerned about the health effects, citing new studies that debunk the scare about high levels of formaldehyde in e-juice.

A different study claims a user would have to vape 480 milligrams of e-juice, about the size of a large water bottle, at 25 watts in under 24 hours “which is physically impossible,” he added.

“That is not a possibility,” he said. “I vape all day and I can barely get through 30 mills (milligrams).”

Iverson said Cal State Vape only buys its e-juice from reputable sources.

“We only carry juice that is made in labs,” he said. “We have visited our labs. They are made in closed clean-room system. They’re carefully measured. We’re not picking up juice that’s made in someone’s living room.”

Health concerns don’t just center around effects on users.

Explosions and fires also have been blamed on vaping products during charging and use.

“These are products that are not regulated,” Dunn said, referring to the liquids, nicotine content, flavorings and devices.

Calls to national poison control centers increased to 3,692 in 2014 from 238 in 2011, a staggering rise of 1,400 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It’s a very small amount of the product that will send an infant, toddler or young child to the hospital,” Dunn said.

A majority of the calls to poison control centers, or 58 percent, involved children under age 5.

Additionally, e-cigarette calls were more likely than regular cigarette calls to include reports of adverse health effects — vomiting, nausea and eye irritation — after exposure.

Regular tobacco-related calls typically are in the youngster-eating-a-cigarette range. By comparison, e-cigarette incidents often involve e-juice poisoning occurring three ways: ingestion, inhalation or absorption through the skin or eyes.

Because of this, CDC officials urge adults to keep the products out of the reach of children.

“Developing strategies to monitor and prevent future poisonings is critical, especially as these products grow in popularity,” the CDC said.

“Health-care providers; the public health community; e-cigarette manufacturers, distributors, sellers, and marketers; and the public should be aware that e-cigarettes have the potential to cause acute adverse health effects and represent an emerging public health concern.”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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