Electronic Cigarette Safety Up For Debate

Posted at: 08/21/2013 5:57 PM
Updated at: 08/22/2013 2:40 PM

E-cigarettes are giving the phrase lighting up a whole new meaning.  Some smokers Eyewitness news spoke with say e-cigs have helped them quit traditional tobacco.

Brian Annis says he smoked for years and tried everything from nicotine gum to prescribed medication to quit.  But it wasn't until he found e-cigs that something actually stuck.

"It helped me.  It satisfies that oral fixation and that inhalation of something that I really missed with those other cessation devices," Annis said.  "We don't claim this to be a cessation device, but it is an alternative that's worked for me."

Annis says he quit tobacco thanks to e-cigs eight months ago and that he's not the only one who's benefited from them.  That's why in September, he'll open a shop in Duluth selling e-cigarette and vapor products. 

"I believe in the product.  I believe it's a good alternative to smoking cigarettes," Annis said.

His shop, Lake Effect Vapor Electronic Cigarettes and Vapor Lounge will be located at 2510 Maple Grove Road in Duluth.  Annis says the shop will offer a variety of options for people in search of vapor and electronic cigarette products.

However, not everyone is as enthusiastic as Annis. Cardiology Nurse Practitioner Jessica Zweifel helps people kick their smoking habit as the program director of Tobacco Free Services at Essentia Health.  She says, like Annis, many smokers think of e-cigarettes as a less-harmful substitute to tobacco cigarettes.

"Unfortunately for both of those options being less harmful or a successful cessation device, there is no evidence out there stating that these things are true," Zweifel said.  

She says she expects substantial research in the coming years, but until then she doesn't recommend e-cigs as a cessation tool to her clients.  Instead, she offers other traditional quit tools such as counseling and nicotine gum.

"The long term effect of this, we just don't know," Zweifel said.  "There's not enough information out there.  They haven't been around long enough to do studies."

Electronic cigarettes are so new in fact that they're not regulated by the FDA.  They're also not included in Minnesota's ban on smoking in most indoor public places,  but Duluth city councilors Jennifer Julsrud and Linda Krug want to change that here.

"As a local government we can regulate how it's sold and keep it behind the counter and make sure it's not marketed to kids as well," Julsrud said. 

Julsrud plans to bring ordinances forward that would ban the sale of e-cigs to minors and make that sale inaccessible.  They would also require e-cigs to follow the same advertising restrictions as cigarettes within the city of Duluth, whenever possible.

The major part of the ordinance would require e-cigs to follow the Clean Indoor Air Act.  E-cigs would then essentially follow the same indoor restrictions as traditional tobacco cigarettes.

Julsrud has been working with the American lung Association's Jill Doberstien to regulate e-cigs. Doberstien says until the FDA can get a more in depth look, they won't be deemed safe.

"The industry is marketing these new products as a safer alternative.  In fact, in some of their advertising they talk about how they're safe for pregnant women and feel free to use these indoors, anywhere you're not allowed to smoke," Doberstien.  "But from what we're finding in the early research is that they're not really safe at all. So, it's very misleading."

Annis agrees more research is needed, but asks for conclusive evidence before e-cigarettes are treated like tobacco cigarettes.  He makes the case that before bans were placed on traditional cigarettes there was significant evidence that secondhand smoke causes cancer.  So, he asks regulators to give e-cigs the same treatment. 

"We think it's a no brainer that it's a healthier alternative to using tobacco products," Annis said. 

Until more substantial and conclusive research is made available, the electronic cigarette debate will continue. 

Julsrud's ordinances will be on Monday's council agenda. If passed, Duluth would join other areas in Minnesota, such as Mankato and Hennepin county, to regulate e-cigs.