Thursday, August 27, 2009

Department of Defense weighs in on testing e-cigarette usage

It’s hard to miss the onslaught of ads for a new ‘‘fantastic, risk-free, clean, and absolutely amazing” invention that lets people continue to smoke without all the dangers of smoking. It sounds too good to be true, but electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) manufacturers brazenly advertise their product as the first healthy cigarette, free of the harmful chemicals and tar typically found in tobacco products, and compare them to the nicotine patch. One of the product’s largest distributors has stated that they are ‘‘pretty sure” e-cigarettes are safe.

Analysis refutes health claims

However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently found otherwise. On July 22, it announced that its laboratory analysis of electronic cigarettes indicate that these products contain detectable levels of known carcinogens and toxic chemicals to which users could potentially be exposed. Tests were conducted on a small sample of cartridges from two leading brands of electronic cigarettes. One contained diethylene glycol, an ingredient used in antifreeze that is toxic to humans.

Capt. David Arday, a U.S. Public Health Service physician and chairman of the Department of Defense (DoD) Alcohol and Tobacco Advisory Committee, responded, ‘‘I strongly caution service members to avoid e-cigarettes, and to instead choose to make a commitment to give up all tobacco products. Substituting a product designed to keep you hooked on nicotine and that the FDA has legitimate safety concerns about is not the answer. And we know from research that nicotine is as addictive as heroin.”

Other members of the medical and scientific community have voiced their concerns. ‘‘Nicotine is not the thing in tobacco smoke that causes cancer, but inhaling pure nicotine may be dangerous,” said Dr. Steven Schroeder, a physician and smoking cessation expert at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center.

The FDA has rebutted claims by manufacturers that an electronic cigarette is no different than an approved nicotine inhaler. ‘‘The Nicotrol inhaler is an approved smoking cessation device,” said FDA spokesperson Rita Chapelle. The FDA has long considered e-cigarettes an unapproved drug-device product, because there is no scientific proof that they are safe and effective, and they have not been submitted to the FDA for evaluation or approval.

WHO does not approve

The World Health Organization (WHO) has taken a strong stance against electronic cigarettes and called for marketers to immediately remove language in their ads that suggests that WHO considers e-cigarettes a safe and effective smoking cessation aid. ‘‘If the marketers of the electronic cigarette want to help smokers quit, then they need to conduct clinical studies and toxicity analyses and operate within the proper regulatory framework,” said Douglas Bettcher, director of WHO’s Tobacco Free Initiative. ‘‘Until they do that, WHO cannot consider the electronic cigarette to be an appropriate nicotine replacement therapy, and it certainly cannot accept false suggestions that it has approved and endorsed the product.”

There are proven and safe alternatives for nicotine replacement therapy to help tobacco users stop smoking and using smokeless tobacco, such as the patch and gum, both of which are approved by the FDA and safe when used according to directions. ‘‘Active-duty personnel can learn more about these cessation aids from their installation health care professionals,” said Capt. Arday. ‘‘And there are excellent online tools to support a tobacco-free lifestyle at http:⁄⁄www.ucanquit2.org, headquarters for DoD’s tobacco cessation campaign, Quit Tobacco—Make Everyone Proud.”

How e-cigarettes work

Electronic cigarettes run on a battery. When the user inhales them like a typical cigarette, the battery warms liquid nicotine stored in a plastic filter. The nicotine is dissolved in propylene glycol, the same liquid that is vaporized in nightclub and stage show smoke machines. The combination of heat and liquid creates the puff of vapor that looks like smoke when exhaled.

Those who make a living convincing consumers to spend their hard-earned money on these and other tobacco products do not want anyone to look too closely at the scientific evidence, but the recent FDA findings will be hard to overlook. The obvious purpose of the e-cigarette is to deliver an addictive substance, nicotine, to the user to perpetuate addiction and increase sales. However tobacco users look at it, e-cigarettes mean bad business and continued health risks.

For more information and strategies on getting tobacco free, visit the award-winning Web site dedicated to serving the active-duty enlisted personnel, www.ucanquit2.org.