As children around the country head back to school, parents and school officials may be concerned and wondering about the safety of electronic cigarettes. The electronic cigarette consists of some type of heating element like a battery, for example, that converts nicotine into a vapor that the smoker then inhales. Since electronic cigarettes do not contain tobacco, many believe that the effects are not as harmful as smoking regular cigarettes. Recent studies suggest that more data is needed. There are also claims that smoking electronic cigarettes can aid in efforts to quit smoking, however others, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), say not so fast.
Meanwhile, parents and administrators in the Strongsville, Ohio school district are having discussions about banning electronic cigarettes from school property. In Cleveland, Ohio, electronic cigarette smoking is prohibited in public places. In fact, a growing number of schools around the country are considering policies against the smoking of electronic cigarettes on school grounds. Cathy Callaway, of the American Cancer Society’s Action Network, considers these schools and parents wise to implement some guidelines, at least until more date is available.
President of the American Council on Science and Health, Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, believes firmly that it is the smoke from cigarettes that causes harm rather than nicotine. Others, like Dr. Tarun Weeramanthri, Public Health Executive Director of Western Australia’s Department of Health, are not so quick to agree. Nicotine, it seems, is highly addictive. It can cause harm to developing fetuses. and there have been reports of nicotine poisoning when ingested or absorbed through the skin.
In the meantime, the FDA has expressed some concerns about the use of electronic cigarettes. The FDA regulates the use of cigarettes and other tobacco products, but because electronic cigarettes contain no tobacco, the agency has been mostly silent on the issue. That has all changed now as it has been proposed that manufacturers be subject to FDA regulations regarding product marketing and research. Companies would not be allowed to make claims that electronic cigarettes aid in smoking cessation efforts unless the claims are supported by data.
Also being discussed are minimum age restrictions for purchasing electronic cigarettes. This should be good news for parents and school officials wondering about restricting electronic cigarettes in schools. Manufacturers may even be encouraging students to take up “vaping,” as it is called, by offering electronic cigarettes flavored with things like fruit and chocolate.
One thing that is certain is that there is not enough data available on the subject. Many argue that electronic cigarettes are not as harmful as regular cigarettes, but there are many others who argue the contrary. A lot of electronic cigarette opponents do not think that they help people quit smoking, and argue that they could serve as a gateway to smoking tobacco or using other substances. Proponents, however, suggest that electronic cigarettes are perfectly safe and that they do help people quit smoking. With all the controversy around this issue, school officials and parents concerned about students bringing electronic cigarettes to school should at least pause and get the facts before accepting either side at face value.
By Constance Spruill