Are e-cigarettes creating new generation of smokers?

About a year ago, I was surprised to find out from my daughter that hookah pens were all the rage among the high school crowd.

If you are, like I was, among the uninitiated, this is a device of roughly cigarette proportions that contains a battery, a tiny vaporizer, something to vaporize, and a button to make it go.

Most commonly that “something” is propylene glycol and nicotine. Press a button and you can inhale a smoke-like vapor that contains nicotine or a few other drugs for the more adventuresome.

Since nothing is burning, you are not technically smoking, and the smoke-free laws are therefore neatly sidestepped. Yet all the while people are getting a very smoking-like experience. Clever little device, huh!

E-cigarettes/hookah pens are kind of a half-full /half-empty sort of thing. The industry likes to take the high road. They want you to believe that if you are a two- or three-pack-a-day smoker, and you switch to e-cigarettes as a substitution, you are better off.

And why wouldn’t you be? There’s no tar, no carbon monoxide, and no 400-plus chemicals released from burning tobacco. You won’t burn the house down, and there is only one thing to worry about – nicotine! That’s a pretty impressive list of positives.

The e-cigarette competes for these presumably soon-to-be ex-smokers with nicotine gum, patches, Chantix, antidepressants, hypnotism, will power, and tracheostomy.

There is no great evidence that these devices are an effective way to quit. But they might be. This doesn’t seem like a growing customer base to start an industry on, since less and less people are smoking.

To figure out what the e-cigarette industry is actually betting on, we need look no further than the Centers for Disease Control’s 2012 National Youth Tobacco Survey. A few of our tax dollars keep track of smoking rates in young people. That seems prudent, given the negative health consequences of smoking.

Overall, looking at students from grade 6 through 12, e-cigarette use more than doubled between 2011 and 2012, going from 3.3 percent that tried it to 6.8 percent. Of the 2.1 percent that were currently e-cigarette users, 75 percent also smoked non e-cigarettes – aka “regular” cigarettes with their 400-plus chemicals that require a match.

Small percentages doubling in a year’s time doesn’t sound like much, but there are a lot of kids in school — about 15 million in high school alone. A little math works out to over a million high school students that are or have become e-cigarette customers, most of whom also smoke regular cigarettes.

If the trend continues with Hookah Pens, next year there will be 2 million, and before long, a new generation of smokers. Does the expression “gateway drug” come to mind?

Are hookah pens the latest version of Joe Camel? Are they wrapped in purple paper and sold at “head shops” to attract adult smokers or teens?

Interestingly, when one of the largest university systems in the world — the University of California — decided to ban smoking on all its campuses effective Jan. 1, 2014, it included e-cigarettes in the ban. The California State University system is considering a similar ban.

We have made great progress in the last two decades to reduce smoking. In many areas, smoking is so rare that it’s actually startling to see someone lighting one up.

Let’s not fool ourselves that these cute “personal vaporizers” are out there to get 60-year-old smokers to quit. The real purpose is getting 16-year-olds to start.

Donald Bucklin is a regional medical director, US HealthWorks.

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  • John C. Key MD

    Yours is definitely a glass-half-empty interpretation. I personally don’t know any non-smokers who picked up e-cigarettes, but I know a whole host of smokers who did. Of that number a few returned to cigarettes, some stayed with e-cigarettes, some quit entirely. Net effect: fewer conventional cigarette smokers. I choose to think the glass is half full.

    • BudgetDoc.com

      I agree. I think some of the concerns raised have enough weight to look into, but I’d like to see some more hard numbers and statistics to back up those concerns before we condemn e-cigs as a gateway drug.

  • David Hicks

    Professor John Britton, chair of the Tobacco Advisory Group of the Royal College of Physicians

    10. “If all the smokers in Britain stopped smoking cigarettes and started smoking e-cigarettes we would save 5 million deaths in people who are alive today. It’s a massive potential public health prize.”

    So True, So True

  • David Hicks

    23. “it will … be the first time in history that the public have had to revert to the black market for safer products in order to stay alive and healthy.”

    Source: ECigarette Politics

  • David Hicks

    2. “Safe doesn’t exist. But electronic cigarettes are low risk compared to regular cigarettes. It’s the equivalent of having a four-wheel-drive Volvo compared to a high-powered motorcycle with bald tires in an ice storm.:

    3. “Rather than the unattainable standard of ‘safe’ we should be thinking in terms of ‘safer’. Despite the risks associated with soccer, I would, for instance, prefer my children play soccer rather than play with live hand grenades.”

    Source: An Interview with David Sweanor

  • David Hicks

    5. ”Electronic cigarettes are a potential lifeboat. No, they have not been tested and approved by the FDA.

    “But if you were in a sinking ship, would you remain in the ship because the lifeboats had not been FDA-tested and approved?”

    Source: Tobacco Analysis Blog

  • Andrew Hunt

    Is there research yet tying e-cigarettes with traditional cigarette use?

  • querywoman

    Just a comment, and I do hate all forms of smoking. Sometimes people have to prostitute themselves to make a living. I know a young LVN whose boyfriend is a chemist who works for an ecig company.
    He wants to save up enough money to open a restaurant. I hope he can soon.

  • Mark S.B.

    They should have named these e-cigs Hookyah ,if your going to stop smoking, stop smoking don’t decide these e-cigs are any better.
    Years from now we will find out they cause some weird form of cancer.
    Saying their safe without FDA approval kids will get hooked, that’s just great. Bubble gum anyone.

    • Debbie Guardino

      Chantix is FDA approved can we say psychotic episode or suicide anyone? Just because something is FDA approved doesn’t mean it’s 100% safe. How many drugs have been approved only to pulled off the market a short time later? The drug companies pay the FDA for approval in the form of fees to have the research they conducted themselves reviewed. Ecigs are a gateway AWAY from tobacco for those who have had no success with the “approved” methods. I am almost 3 years smoke free thanks to these devices.

      • Mark S.B.

        Well then I wish you the best of luck. I know people that used Chantix that worked well for them, but it affects everyone different. Good Luck, Happy New Year.

  • Mark S.B.

    The acute oral
    toxicity of propylene glycol is very low, and large quantities are required to
    cause perceptible health damage in humans; propylene glycol is metabolized in
    the human body into pyruvic acid (a
    normal part of the glucose-metabolism process, readily converted to energy),
    acetic acid
    (handled by ethanol-metabolism), lactic acid (a
    normal acid generally abundant during digestion), and propionaldehyde (a potentially hazardous
    substance).

  • David Hicks

    Wow, wonderful, totally agree naturally as you can see from my posts