Rafael Cepeda, Jr.
Rafael Cepeda, Jr.

PHARR, RGV – The general perception of e-cigarettes among current users is that they are harmless. This is largely due to the great deal of the advertising from famous brands that proclaim the absence of tobacco, smoke, and tar.

However, they neglect to mention the essential ingredient found in the water vapor, the feature which will have most users coming back through addiction: Nicotine.

Today, Electronic cigarettes are being marketed as a cessation device for long-time smokers, although the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) does not recognize it as such. The advertising also takes aim at a younger audience that may not smoke with the use of enticing flavored nicotine liquids. The liquid nicotine known as e-juice, is not regulated and at times manufactured in-store at local “vape” shops.

The current of rate of teens that do not engage in tobacco use is 80 percent. This number has grown substantially due to prevention efforts and parental awareness. The recent trend of electronic cigarette use is expected to increase the number of teens using tobacco products by normalizing the act of smoking again. The number of teens using electronic smoking devices continues to double every year, prompting government regulations and expanding the public’s education.

The public needs to be aware that electronic cigarettes, e-hookahs, and vaporizers all contain nicotine. Nicotine is an addicting substance derived from the tobacco plant. Nicotine has been described by the CDC (Centers for Disease and Control) as a neurotoxin, poison, and insecticide. Upon entering the body, nicotine causes blood vessels to constrict and altering the user’s heart rate. Prolonged use of nicotine products promotes thrombosis, higher amount of blood clots within the circulatory system.

E-cig users rationalize public use due to the absence of second-hand smoke, which is replaced with water vapor. The second-hand vapor exhaled by electronic smoking device users contains traces of nicotine, posing as a health hazard for “non-vaping” bystanders. The use of nicotine products among pregnant women is likely to produce miscarriage, stillborn death, premature infants, and low birth weight. Behavioral and learning deficiencies found in children have been associated with maternal nicotine use.

Long-term health hazards attributed to electronic smoking devices are currently being studied in order to force regulations to protect the general public. New research shared on April 6, 2014, by the American Association for Cancer Research has found that vapor from electronic cigarettes affects bronchial cells similarly as cigarette smoke, in terms of causing mutations in cells that could develop into cancer. Another cause for concern is the discovery of diethylene glycol, a carcinogenic chemical compound found in the vapor produced by electronic smoking devices.

Is treating an addiction with another addiction logical? Substance abuse professionals must ask themselves this when considering the medical applications related to electronic smoking devices. The next logical step is to restrict the advertising aimed at young adults, and consider electronic cigarettes as a controlled substance rather than a recreational product. As teen use doubles, it is important to educate them on the addiction and health hazards related to electronic cigarettes.

Rafael Cepeda, Jr., is tobacco coalition specialist for non-profit group Behavioural Health Solutions of South Texas, which was formerly known as Rio Grande Valley Council, Inc.