E-Cigarettes Increasingly Banned in Public, and Causing Epidemics Among Both Young Children and Teens, Says Lawprof. John Banzhaf
More and more jurisdictions are banning the use of e-cigarettes in public places and workplaces, there is an ever growing epidemic of serious injuries to young children, and an escalating use of these addicting devices by teens, notes the lawyer who helped to get their use banned on airplanes, and to spur legislation against their use in no-smoking sections in many jurisdictions.
Meanwhile, there has been a reported 10-fold increase in reported pediatric exposures to the nicotine in e-cigarettes and their cartridges in California from January 2013 through February 2014.
E-cigarette vials of nicotine - a very addictive drug and a highly potent neurotoxin - have been characterized by the New York Times as "Selling a Poison by the Barrel." It noted that it is available in such high concentrations that just one tablespoon could kill an adult. Indeed, an adult was hospitalized with cardiac problems when the nicotine in an e-cigarette cartridge spilled for a moment on her skin.
Meanwhile, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the use of e-cigarettes doubled from 2011 to 2012 among both high school and middle school students. Florida found that more than 4% of middle-schoolers, and fully 12% of high-schoolers, had tried e-cigarettes - figures that have risen dramatically over just the past two years.
As the CDC warned: "Nicotine is a highly addictive drug. Many teens who start with e-cigarettes may be condemned to struggling with a lifelong addiction to nicotine and conventional cigarettes."
This danger seems to be borne out by a recent study. It shows that both middle and high school students who used electronic cigarettes were more likely to smoke real cigarettes, and less likely to quit, than students who did not use the devices. They were also more likely to smoke heavily.
The study concluded that "the use of e-cigarettes does not discourage, and may encourage, conventional cigarette use among U.S. adolescents."
Indeed, e-cigarettes permit both teens and adults to become and to remain tobacco smokers, because it allows them to continue to satisfy their craving for nicotine in settings like schools and workplaces where conventional cigarettes are banned; i.e., where they otherwise might have to quit entirely.
E-cigarettes users emit into the air a vapor which consists primarily of two substances, but which has also been found to also include some heavy metals and other known carcinogens.
These two main substances are nicotine, a very addictive drug and a highly potent neurotoxin, and propylene glycol, a respiratory irritant. Experts have warned that propylene glycol should not be inhaled because it can cause respiratory irritation, convulsions, and gastrointestinal distress.
Nicotine, even when inhaled in small amounts by nonsmokers, can be deadly. That's why the CDC has warned that nonsmokers seated in the no-smoking sections of restaurants, and inhaling only the nicotine in the small amount of smoke which drifts to their table, nevertheless increase their risk of a heart attack to that of a smoker in as little as 30 minutes.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that even the small amount of propylene glycol inhaled by those around an e-cigarette user can trigger major respiratory problems, especially among the almost 100 million Americans who have serious conditions like asthma, allergies, sinusitis, and other respiratory conditions which make them especially susceptible.
The major argument in favor of e-cigarettes is that they help smokers quit, but many studies seem to refute this premise. In any event, it is undisputed that this hasn't yet been shown, to the satisfaction of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which has jurisdiction over them, that the products are useful in helping smokers quit. In stark contrast, such evidence did prove to the FDA that nicotine chewing gum, nicotine patches, and nicotine sprays and inhalers are not only safe, but also effective in helping smokers quit.
Meanwhile, while the public waits for the FDA to issue long-delayed rules to regulate this new product, it is instructive to see what many other countries are doing.
In some countries, such as the United Kingdom and New Zealand, e-cigarettes are regulated as medicines - as nicotine gums, patches, and inhalers are in the U.S. - and can be purchased only in pharmacies. In Denmark, Canada, and Australia, they are subject to restrictions on sale, import, and marketing. Complete bans are in place in Brazil, Norway, Singapore, and other countries.
Experts worry that, even if e-cigarettes are somewhat less hazardous to users than conventional cigarettes - something which hasn't been established to the satisfaction of any government body, nor to any major national health organization - their widespread use could nevertheless imperil public health.
John F. Banzhaf III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D.
Professor of Public Interest Law
Public Interest Law Professor John Banzhaf
202 994-7229 // 703 527-8418