Guest Post By Michael Eastman: Vaping, Disclaimers, And Youth
Note: The following was written by the inestimable Michael Eastman. While I share and endorse the following sentiments, I am not the original author, only a privileged associate who had this platform through which to relay his opinions on this matter. —JC
I recently read an article on State Press.com titled, “E-cig market lacks public disclaimers, advertising to youth” by Becca Smous (which you can read here), and I would like to provide a counter argument.
While reading this article I was brought back to my days of taking creative writing at the community college. The instructor told the class that your best work will always come from writing about what you know and have experienced. Becca Smous unfortunately wrote her article without knowing much about the subject or having any related experience. I am an electronic cigarette user who is intimately familiar with the products, how they have affected my life, how they have affected the lives of others who I have met, and the political landscape surrounding the issue. I am writing this piece so that those of you who are less informed on the subject can gain some clarity and see through this political smoke screen.
You may think I have conflicted interests because I use an e-cigarette, but I pose a question. Are government officials who are lobbied by pharmaceutical and tobacco companies not of conflicted interest? These are the same people who gain kickbacks and tax revenue from the deterioration and death of individuals through sales of Polonium-210 contaminated death leaves. The same people who stand to gain from smoking cessation medication which can cause psychotic behavior and suicidal ideation. These are also the same people who are heavily against e-cigarettes and create this fear mongering political atmosphere.
I will not tell you or anyone that e-cigarettes are 100% safe. What I can say is that the inhalation of USP nicotine, USP propylene glycol, USP glycerine, and food flavorings which have been generally recognized as safe by the FDA is much healthier than the crude combustion of organic material. Especially organic material which has been contaminated with higher concentrations of heavy radioactive metals due to soil conditions and fertilizer. Polonium 210 has a half life of 138 days and it takes roughly 5 half lives to eliminate something from your body completely. This means that it takes roughly 691 days to clear your body from a single exposure. This is arguably the biggest carcinogenic factor from cigarette smoking.
Inhalation of the flavorings have not been studied in depth, should not be used as a point of argument for legislation. There are so many flavorings out there that testing them all one by one on rodents or lung tissue cultures would be impractical. The data it provides might not even be relevant to humans. In order to have a good idea of what to study there would have to be an observed correlation by physician researchers between a flavoring and a certain health condition. This correlation could then be tested in the laboratory to establish whether it was mere correlation or causation. People are going to use flavorings whether it is legal or not as there is no effective way to legislate human desire. It is much better if flavorings are blended by professionals rather than in someone’s dirty garage.
There are avoidable harms that can come from cigarettes that I would like to take a moment to discuss. The first one has to do with inhalation of ultra fine particles that Becca Smous pointed out. The heating element, also known as the atomizer, is composed of a circular coil of resistance wire with a material through it which serves to wick the liquid. Silica is the standard for stock atomizers and the particles of Silica are generally small enough to be considered respirable. When silica dries out, the particles are able to be inhaled and pass through into the lungs. Many safer alternatives have been found and are avidly used by experienced vapers. Some of these include aluminum oxide(ceramic), kiln treated XC-116(ceramic fiber), cotton, and hemp.
The other point made about metal contamination is mainly from cheap Chinese devices which incorporate their liquid. Disposable mass produced e-cigarettes should not be used if one is concerned with their health. A poor solder job can be a source of such metals or they can come from impurities in the Chinese e-liquid. China is not known for their quality control. The e-liquid should not be bought from China when it can be bought for a reasonable cost locally. Butt Out and Juggz Juice for example are both manufactured locally in a laboratory using pharmaceutical grade nicotine, propylene glycol, glycerine, and professionally produced food flavoring from the US or Europe.
Ultimately E-cigarettes are a method of harm reduction for adults dependent on tobacco. As we learn more about possible dangers, we adapt our technology and methodology to avoid these pitfalls. In an ideal world, we would want all smokers to just quit cold turkey or on a brief taper and be done with it. In the real world this works for very few long term. There is also a portion of the population that has no desire to quit nicotine. Many highly intelligent people harm themselves in ways we can’t understand with smoking.
The vaping industry, as it exists today, is a mostly tight knit community of small companies. Shop owners that I have met are people who successfully quit smoking using these products. They are people who believe in harm reduction and dedicate themselves to getting others to quit smoking. There are bad seeds looking to cash in on the popularity of e-cigarettes, but these people get weeded out in a free market through word of mouth. Our market is currently free, but some people wish to introduce regulation by the FDA. If prohibitively expensive regulatory hoops are introduced, it will stifle competition and provide an invitation for a big business takeover. The best thing the FDA could do is provide cheap testing services for e-liquid that vapers are unsure about. If any potentially harmful compounds are in it, then they could state the compound and possible risk. This will not happen because the issue is about money more than safety.
Becca Smous mistakenly stated that the liquids are flavored to appeal to children.We don’t make fruity, sweet, or other flavored products to appeal to children. We make these flavors because the adult demographic that uses e-cigarettes enjoys them. There are no e-liquid vendors rubbing their palms together waiting for the bell to ring. Vape shops strongly refuse sales to anyone under 18, whether it is technically legal to sell to them or not. Children are the responsibility of their parents and legislation of flavors will never substitute educating the child and maintaining a good relationship. Some kids may pick up vaping, but I would argue that these are the same kids that would pick up smoking to alleviate emotional distress and boredom. There is also no gateway from vaping to smoking. The last time I tried to smoke a cigar after vaping for a few months, I stubbed it out and threw it away.
Many of us enjoy flavors so much that we get completely off nicotine, but still vape because we enjoy the flavor. It satisfies the hand to mouth fixation and helps us avoid cigarettes while helping to resist temptations to eat an abundance of food once we have given up nicotine. I started out using a concentration of 24mg/ml in July 2013 and I am down to 4mg/ml currently. Without flavoring I can say that I wouldn’t have made it this far. In fact I completely lost my taste for tobacco.
We all enjoy things to our own detriment in one form or another. For many in this country this takes the form of a food addiction, an affliction with grave health consequences. So if we all partake in behaviors which are harmful, then why are we so quick to judge and point the finger?
Let me conclude by sharing a quote from Gabor Mate M.D in his book, In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts, which concerns itself with the reason why society shuns people with substance dependency:
“We despise, ostracize, and punish the addict because we don’t wish to see how much we resemble him. In his Dark mirror our own features are unmistakable . We shudder at the recognition. This mirror is not for us, we say to the addict. You are different, and you don’t belong with us….Like the hardcore addict’s pursuit of drugs, much of our economic and cultural life caters to people’s cravings to escape mental and emotional distress”[p.258].