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Health experts say more information is needed on effects of e-cigarette use

Mar 25, 2014 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Electronic cigarettes have been available for years, but they have gained popularity recently, prompting concern from local smoking cessation advocates.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines e-cigarettes as "battery powered devices that provide doses of nicotine and other additives to the user in an aerosol." Most are manufactured to look like conventional cigarettes, cigars and pipes according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. But e-cigarettes are not regulated by the FDA, and they have not yet been "fully" studied.

The lack of information about the product is troubling to public health nurse Teresa Nirider.

"There's just so much we don't know," she said. "The overall impact of e-cigarette use on public health remains uncertain."

A CDC article says e-cigarettes appear to contain "far fewer" toxins than traditional cigarettes, but the report also states that the effect of e-cigarettes on long-term health needs to be studied further -- especially since use of the product has increased among adults in the United States. In 2011, about 21 percent of adults who smoke traditional cigarettes had used electronic cigarettes according to the CDC, up from about 10 percent in 2010.

In a 2011 article for the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Lowell Dale said the FDA found "traces of toxic chemicals, including known cancer-causing substances" in two popular e-cigarette brands.

"We don't know what's in that vapor yet," said Theresa Harmati, a community prevention professional with the Prevention Management Organization of Wyoming in Fremont County. "Or what's happening when it's being inhaled."

There is no proof that the product helps people quit smoking either. For now, Harmati recommended that people looking to quit call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or visit quitwyoming.com to learn about proven cessation methods, which include counseling, medication, nicotine gum and nicotine patches.

The rules

Last year, the Wyoming Legislature added e-cigarettes to the list of products that are illegal for people under 18. Merchants who sell e-cigarettes to minors can be found guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $50 for first violation, $250 for second violation and $750 for third or subsequent violation committed within 24 months.

Regardless, a CDC study shows e-cigarette use more than doubled among middle and high school students between 2011 and 2012 in the United States. According to the report, 4.7 percent of high school students said they had used an e-cigarette in 2011, up to 10 percent in 2012. Altogether, in 2012 more than 1.78 million middle and high school students nationwide said they had tried e-cigarettes, the CDC said.

The trend hasn't been noticeable in Fremont County schools, where administrators say they haven't had problems with e-cigarettes. Riverton High School principal John Griffith said one student brought an electronic cigarette to the first day of school this year, but the item was quickly confiscated.

"We treat it like regular cigarettes," Griffith said. "We (told) kids we're going to treat these the same, whether they're tobacco or not. ... Since then we haven't had (an issue). They haven't really become popular with our high school kids, thankfully."

In Lander, e-cigarettes already are banned in student handbooks, but the Fremont County School District 1 Board of Trustees is considering an official policy to prohibit use of e-cigarettes on school property, which is designated tobacco-free.

Nirider said anything that contains nicotine should be kept away from children, including e-cigarettes.

"Nicotine is addictive," she said. "And in youth the concern includes the potential negative impact of nicotine on adolescent brain development."

The FDA Center for Tobacco Products has announced that it intends to expand its jurisdiction over tobacco products to include e-cigarettes, but the agency has not yet issued regulatory rules.

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