4 On Your Side clears the air on E-Cigs

Posted at: 11/26/2013 10:33 PM
By: Chris Ramirez, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Part of being an investigative reporter means taking notice when something new emerges in our community.  Things started happening that I hadn’t seen since the early 1990s.  People were puffing again- inside restaurants, at work, inside the bar.  It almost seemed like somehow our society was regressing back in time.  But what was really happening was the tobacco industry was progressing at a speed that outpaced the bureaucratic way we make laws. What I had been seeing was the use of electronic cigarettes.  

“We're particularly concerned about the impact e-cigarettes are having on children," Gary King, New Mexico’s Attorney General, told me a few weeks ago. 

King joined attorneys general from around the country asking that that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulate the use and sale of e-cigs.

"We think that the marketing restrictions that apply to regular cigarettes should apply to e-cigarettes,” King said.  “These are products that should not be marketed or sold to minors."

Across the nation, e-cigs can legally be sold to children, even though they are a tobacco product.  4 On Your Side tested that with an APS student named Brandon.  We followed him with an undercover camera as he went into gas stations, hookah lounges and convenience stores.  Time after time, Brandon scored a sale and most cashiers never asked for an ID.

But it’s not fair to be upset with the cashiers.  They did nothing wrong.  They have every legal right to sell e-cigs to minors because New Mexico’s laws do not address this growing industry.  

For those of you unfamiliar with the product, it works like this:  a battery heats up a liquid inside the device.  That liquid turns into vapor and carries the nicotine into your lungs when you inhale. 

Part of not having rules means regulators aren’t watching over what goes inside the e-cig.  No one knows that better than Denise Gonzales, M.D. of the Presbyterian Medical Group.    

"I had a patient I took care of in the ICU who used e-cigs,” Dr. Gonzales explained.  “It's very likely that the fluid he vaporized and inhaled was contaminated.  He got a very particular type of bacterial infection in his lungs from bacteria that grows in contaminated water.

Dr. Gonzales said her patient thought e-cigs were a safer alternative than traditional smoking, but turned out to be very wrong.

"This patient required artificial life support and was on a ventilator.  I had to go in and take biopsies of his lungs and treat him with antibiotics,” Dr. Gonzales said.  “He was a young person, only 19 and stayed in the hospital for two weeks."

There are no standards about the water the manufacturers puts in the e-cig cartridge.  So if the e-cig is made in China or any other foreign country, chances are the water inside comes from that same factory. 

Countries like Portugal, Australia and Mexico have created regulation surrounding e-cigs.  Some blame a 2010 appellate court ruling for the U.S. being behind the ball in creating regulation.  U.S. courts determined that so long as e-cig companies aren't marketing themselves as a way to cure traditional smoking or any other disease, the product doesn't have to be tightly controlled by the FDA.