CDC Released E-Cigarette Study

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According to a recent study released by the CDC, electronic, or e-cigarette related calls to poison control centers have increased from one per month to 215 in the 2010-15 time frame. The culprit is the e-cigarette liquid which contains nicotine, the addictive substance cigarette smokers are notorious for craving. More than half, 51 percent, of the calls were for children under the age of five and 42 percent were for adults over 20. The CDC reports that these numbers are likely low, due to under-reporting from individuals affected. Adults may fear reprisal from local social services agencies if they report a child affected by toxic exposure.

Nicotine is a poisonous substance which is indicated in cigarette addiction. E-cigarettes give many users the sense that they have found a safe delivery system for the toxin, since there is no odorous smoke or a visibly burned material involved. E-cigarettes are loaded with cartridges full of a liquid containing varying levels of nicotine. The liquids are often flavored to provide the user with a pleasurable smoking experience.

While concentrated, pure nicotine can be fatal in small amounts; however, e-cigarettes have yet to cause death as a result of an acute exposure. Calls to poison control centers mostly reported states of extreme agitation, including vomiting, nausea and eye irritation. Though not included in the study, some exposed to second-hand e-cigarette vapor have reported allergic reactions, shortness of breath and general irritation.

The rise in calls to poison control mirrors the rise in e-cigarette sales. The devices and their liquid fillers comprise an industry which is estimated to have a total value between $1.5 and $1.7 billion. Sales of e-cigarette products doubled in both 2012 and 2013. The trend continues, as does the potential health risk.

E-cigarette users dismiss warnings from the CDC, saying that the devices do not have the vast number of artificial chemicals as tobacco products, and that there is yet to be a study released that shows a cancer link. While the liquid used in the devices has not been fully studied for its impact to health, the device itself could be endangering health. Some of the devices use soldered parts and the heating element in the device can send lead, fiber and toxic fumes into the user’s lungs.

The director of the CDC, Dr. Tom Frieden, recently voiced his concerns about the e-cigarette phenomenon. The crux of his concern lies in the introduction of the act of smoking to a younger generation in a “new-fangled” package that gives the appearance of safety. He said that he has worked with many smokers who were desperate to quit the habit they formed as youngsters. Young people often turn to cigarettes as a means of rebellion and to affect an air of maturity and sophistication. When this trend continues with the new generation of smoking devices it may take several more generations before the health impact can be studied and identified. Add to the problem a potential multi-billion dollar industry lobbying congress to fight regulation, and the recipe for a new health crisis is prepared.

The CDC is collecting data on e-cigarette use for further study and is likely to release more conclusions over time. For now, the market is wide open for the sale, use and distribution of the new smokeless devices, though FDA regulation seems imminent. Regardless, users are warned to be aware that the nicotine liquid is not benign, particularly in the hands of the very young.

By Hobie Anthony

LA Times

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