E-cigs safer? Not safe?

Written by Gillian Smith
 | Wednesday, 14 May 2014 13:32

While widely accepted as a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes, a major concern has risen regarding the use of e-cigarettes by youth, community members learned Monday night.

Interested residents and health officials attended an e- cigarette forum hosted by State Representative Josh Cutler, at the Senior Center to learn about electronic cigarettes and current local regulations that may be put in place regarding the sale of the e-cigarettes to minors.

Donald J. Wilson, director of tobacco control at the Massachusetts Municipal Association, and Patricia Henley, director community health in the Office of Tobacco Prevention for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, held and open forum-style meeting as they presented e-cigarettes and the current push for better regulations regarding the use of the devices by minors.

Wilson said the Massachusetts Municipal Association is a nonprofit, nonpartisan trade association to which Duxbury belongs. Over his two decades working with the Department of Public Health, Wilson said the department has slowly been putting into place local regulations, through ordinances or bylaws, in cities in towns across the state to bet- ter regulate the cigarette, and more recently e-cigarette, in- dustry.

“It has been difficult over the years because the industry has morphed so quickly,” Wilson said. “Eight years ago, when e-cigarettes were first introduced, we were not wor- ried about youth use because we thought they were expensive enough that kids wouldn’t care about them.”

An e-cigarette is defined by the Massachusetts Municipal Association as “any electronic nicotine delivery product composed of a mouthpiece, heating element, battery and/or electronic circuits that provides a vapor of liquid nicotine to the user, or relies on vaporization of solid nicotine or any liquid.” E-cigarettes are currently not regulated on the federal or state level and there is no age restriction on e-cigarettes. Currently 113 towns in Massachusetts do not allow the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. Duxbury is not one of those towns.

Wilson brought several examples of e-cigarettes that are currently on the market. The types and styles of the e-cigarette varied from one that looked identical to a traditional cigarette and was plain or menthol flavored to ones that were colorful and strawberry or exotic blue mist flavored. As the industry has grown, products such as e-cigars or e-hookahs have also emerged.

“What we started seeing was that people will fill the empty cartridges with stuff you can buy online, in stores, or make at home,” Wilson said. “The three I bought online was Sweet Tart, Bazooka Bubblegum and Cotton Candy flavored.”

A current proposal by the Food and Drug Administration would ban sales to anyone under 18 and would require warning labels and FDA approval for new products.

Henley said one of the main things she is concerned about is youth access to the products.

“The fact that these products are now so much more readily available, come in bubblegum and sweet tart flavors and are very attractive to young people is a concern,”she said. “Young people don’t understand just how much nic- otine is in these products.”

Another concern surrounds “dual use” of these products. Dual use refers to youth who start using the e-cigarettes and then may also go on to use tobacco products. Henley said the lack of regulations for the nicotine liquid for the products presents many opportunities for nicotine poisoning both in adult users and unsuspecting children.

Wilson said federal regulations would take at least two years to go into effect and recommended local action for Duxbury. There is currently a bill at the State House that would change the current wording of state tobacco sale regulations to include e-cigarettes. The bill would also add e-cigarette use to the smoke-free workplace ban.

While the jury is still out on whether e-cigarettes are successful tobacco cessation products, or products that help users stop smoking cigarettes, several community members in attendance said they or a family member has had success using the product as a tool to help quit using the tobacco products.

Leo Vercollone, who owns the Gulf station in Duxbury, sells e-cigarettes and tobacco at that and 24 others side across the state. He said he thought the dicussion was an important one because the technology is “so new and so innovative.”

“We certainly don’t want our youth trying this product,” he said. “It has to be age-regulated and flavor-regulated. There is no doubt.”

Sandy Wright, the Plymouth County Commissioner, expressed concern over the disposal of the e-cigarettes and nicotine liquid containers.

“In Bridgewater, where I am, we know that the college kids are not going to dispose of them the way they should and they are going to end up in our trash and what do we do then?” she said.

Wilson said he has not heard anything, other than anecdotally, about the negative effects of improper disposal. Henley said the Department of Environmental Protection is looking into proper disposal and is considering a proactive approach to disposal on the state level.

After the discussion, both Wilson and Henley encouraged audience members to get in touch with their state legislators to express their opinion on the topic.

“Our big concern is to not have a kid start on a Marlboro e-cigarette and then switch to a Marlboro cigarette,” Wilson said. “If model for e-cigarettes is to sell to smokers who want to wean themselves off in a couple of years, that is a great model. It’s a terrible business model because the industry does not want you to stop in two yeas. But we have a concern we don’t want 13-year- olds [using e-cigarettes] until the day they die.”