Category Archives: e-cigarettes

Teen vaping rate continues to climb

vaping-girl

Well, the Pollyanna side of me wants to say, “good news, bad news,” but I think it’s more bad than good.

According to the CDC, the teen vaping rate continued to climb in 2015. That’s the bad news. The good news is it isn’t climbing as rapidly as it was in 2014.

Teen Vaping Rate

The teen vaping rate is now 16 percent; roughly one teen out of six has vaped in the past 30 days. In 2014, it was 13.4 percent. That figure tripled from 2013, when it was just 4.5 percent. So, basically it went from increasing 200 percent in 2014 to about 20 percent in 2015. Is that good news? I don’t know. It could be the teen vaping market is as saturated as it’s going to get.

Hopefully, part of the reason for the slowdown is most states now do prohibit selling vaping products to teenagers However, it really isn’t very hard for kids to order vaping products online, which seriously needs to be banned by the FDA.

teen smoking

The FDA has been dawdling for well over a year now on e-cigarette regulations. And in that time, the teen vaping use continues to climb … though perhaps it isn’t quite “skyrocketing” like it was a couple of years ago. It’s damned frustrating. I cannot envision why it has taken so long to finalize regulations. All I can think of is the lawyers must be making the decisions at this point.

The draft FDA regulations that came out a while ago now were pretty weak, and didn’t do a heck of a lot to address teen vaping use. The FDA proposed banning sales to minors, but as I mentioned earlier most states already do this anyway. That won’t make a dramatic difference.

e-cig ad
A real e-cig ad.

The FDA neglected to ban online sales (you can’t sell cigarettes online), nor did the agency address e-cigarette marketing and advertising — both of these are serious issues that need to be dealt with in my opinion. E-cigarette companies are using the exact same kind of ads making e-cigs look sexy and sophisticated that cigarette companies successfully used for decades to make their products appear cool to kids.

I’m perfectly fine with people using e-cigarettes to quit smoking. When all else fails, I feel they have nothing to lose. And while I certainly don’t trust that e-cigarettes are 100 percent benign (the vapour is known to contain formaldehyde and diactyl) , they are less toxic than cigarettes.

However, I’m not cool with teenagers simply finding  different delivery system to get physically addicted to nicotine to begin with. And unfortunately, that is a big part of the e-cigarette market. The e-cigarette companies can act all innocent all they want … they’ve also put their brand names on women’s panties. That’s not about people getting off of cigarettes. That’s about enticing horny young teens to use your product.

The other good news is largely because of e-cigarettes, the teen smoking rate has basically completely collapsed. I saw one graph that showed that the 12th-grade smoking rate in 2013 is now at a minuscule 6.7 percent. When I started blogging about tobacco about 10-12 years ago, the teen smoking rate was pushing 30 percent.

The CDC report also states that the middle school vaping rate is about 5.3 percent. Again, this is up dramatically from 2011, when less than 1 percent of all middle schoolers were vaping.

 

Legislative round-up — e-cig bans in Wales, Vermont, cigarette taxes in Louisiana

c-cig laws

From purely an SEO standpoint, I know I’m supposed to break out these stories into separate posts, but that’s too much of a pain in the ass, so I’m compiling some legislative updates into one post because I’m feeling lazy.

First off, a major cigarettes tax increase in Louisiana.

Louisiana raises cigarette taxes

 

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Bobby Jindal … douchebag

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards just signed a bill raising Louisiana’s cigarette tax a tiny bit from 88 cents a pack to $1.08 a pack. That still leaves Louisiana with one of the lowest cigarette taxes in the U.S. This was done partly out of pure, sheer, unadultered desperation after 8 years of Republican Bobby Jindal’s fiscal mismanagement left the state of Louisiana utterly broke. I hate to bring politics onto the lounge, but Jesus, between Schwarzenegger, Brownbeck, Scott Walker and Jindal, have voters not figured out that Republicans simply cannot govern responsibly? Poor Louisiana, which has never gotten over the fiscal impact of Hurricane Katrina, is painfully broke and looking at all kinds of tax increases just to keep basic state services running.

I don’t get it, why do people keep voting for Republicans when they’ve shown time and again they simply … cannot … govern … or manage a budget responsibly, particularly at the state level. Again, I try to keep partisan politics out of the Lounge, but I honestly don’t get this.

This tax is expected to add $230 million to state coffers over the next five years, which will help a little.

The average cigarette tax in the U.S. is about $1.60 a pack, so Louisiana is still well below the national average.

Wales to ban e-cig use indoors

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More and more places are banning e-cigarette use indoors, including Wales, which is set to pass a law banning them inside.

I didn’t mind e-cigs indoors for a long time. Their vapour doesn’t smell nor  until I started reading all the stories about the @#$%ing formaldehyde and diactyl in e-cigarette vapour and now I don’t care if it isn’t annoying or irritating, I don’t want to ingest it in any way, shape or form. Not until MORE IS KNOWN about just how dangerous that vapour might be. Now, whenever I’m near someone using an e-cig indoors, I find myself holding my breath or leaning away from them. What it comes down to is … I … simply … do … not … trust … that … vapour. No offence.

From Wales Online:

(Welsh Health Minister Mark Drakeford)  has not dismissed claims that e-cigarettes may help people quit smoking.

He added: “The Bill does not prevent the use of e-cigarettes to help people stop smoking if they believe they will help them. Wherever you can smoke a cigarette you will be able to use an e-cigarette.”

Vermont to ban e-cig use indoors

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Vermont is set to pass a bill that would ban e-cig use indoors and would put restrictions on the sales of e-cig products to keep them out of the hands of minors … ARE YOU PAYING ATTENTION, FDA?

E-cigs would have to be kept out of sight in stores or kept in a locked container. They would also be banned in bars and restaurants. I haven’t kept track of how many states are banning them indoors, but this is a growing tide.

 

 

 

L.A. Times rips into FDA, White House over the delay in e-cigarette regulations

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Hah, I actually found a story in my archives from nearly a year ago saying that the Food and Drug Administration was expected to issue e-cigarette regulations the following week. That was 10 months ago.

The Los Angeles Times published an absolutely scathing editorial ripping on the FDA and the White House for delaying implementing final regulations on e-cigarettes. The FDA supposedly finalized its regulations in October after receiving 135,000 comments and sent them to the White House Office of Budget and Management in October, where they have been sitting for five months.

In the L.A. Times’ words: “And there the proposal sits while the fast-growing e-cigarette industry operates virtually unchecked.”

The Times wrote the editorial in response to the apparently growing problem of e-cigarettes catching on fire or exploding. You can find a new story on some e-cig fire or explosion on virtually a weekly basis. However, that’s not really the biggest issue with them. That’s still pretty rare.

To quote from the editorial:

At the moment, federal regulators can do little more than shake their fists impotently at faulty electronic cigarettes manufacturers, most of whom are in China. That’s because e-cigarettes are considered tobacco products, and thus fall under the authority of the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA has yet to start cracking down despite the meteoric growth of “vaping,” as the process of using an e-cigarette to inhale nicotine is known.

While researchers haven’t yet settled the question of whether vaping is as harmful as smoking, we do know e-cigarette users don’t breathe in the same kind of carcinogenic smoke and tar that conventional cigarette smokers do. That’s good, but it doesn’t make vaping a benign pastime. No matter how you package it, nicotine is an addictive chemical linked to cardiovascular disease.

The vaping liquids have also been found to contain other chemicals such as Diacetyl, a flavoring associated with a terrifying illness called “Popcorn lung.” But until the new regulations kick in and require the disclosure of all chemicals in those liquids, there’s no way for consumers to know what other substances they may be inhaling.

The L.A. Times is right. It has been FOUR years since the FDA starting working on e-cigarette regulations. Four years during which the use of e-cigs has exploded (no pun intended) among teenagers. This has taken far too long. And I fear the regulations that are finalized are going to be really weak and won’t address e-cig marketing or online sales to teenagers.

 

A spirited defence of e-cigarettes

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Lately, I’ve been posting a lot of negative stories about e-cigarettes and recent studies showing the vapour in e-cigs may not be as benign as c-cig companies would have you believe.

Here’s a column defending e-cigarettes from Helen Redmond, who’s written for Al Jazeera and AlterNet, defending e-cigs as a tool to help smokers quit. I thought it was pretty interesting, and to be fair, I thought it was worth writing about to get the other side of the e-cigarette argument.

In her column, Redmond writes:

Public health organizations and federal drug agencies including the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) argue—despite no adequate evidence—that vaping is a “gateway” to tobacco for youth and that “e-cigarettes are no better than smoking regular cigarettes.” Numerous articles and well-respected, anti-smoking groups refer to e-cigarettes as “tobacco products,” which they clearly are not. The American Lung Association’s website contains a statement that declares: “Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are a popular new tobacco product that have still largely unknown public and individual health effects.” The word “scourge” is usually reserved for heroin panics, but it’s being used to describe electronic cigarettes. Michael Seilback, a vice president of the American Lung Association, said in a press release: “The scourge of e-cigarettes in New York has warranted action and Governor Cuomo’s proposal comprehensively tackles the proliferation of e-cigarettes in New York.”

But you know what the real scourge is?

The real scourge is that 480,000 people die in the United States from smoking-related illnesses every year. And electronic cigarettes—which are the best hope for hundreds of thousands of inveterate smokers to quit and stay alive, and which cause a tiny fraction of the harms of real cigarettes—are subject to a vicious and unrelenting campaign of lies and deception to convince smokers not to use them.

Are the enemies of vaping so implacably and irrationally opposed to it that they prefer smokers die rather than switch to e-cigarettes?

Redmond cites a study done last year in the UK that states e-cigs are about 95 percent safer than tobacco cigarettes  and she also cites some statistics about e-cigarettes helping smokers quit.

She writes:

Electronic cigarettes help smokers quit. That’s why millions of people are using them. The Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA) conducted a survey in 2015 of 19,823 its members; 87% reported they quit smoking entirely after starting to vape. In response to an article in Consumer Reports that rejected recommending the use of ECs, more than 1,300 readers responded saying that electronic cigarettes helped them kick the habit. And according to a new study published in the journal Addiction, using ECs led to an estimated 22,000 more people quitting tobacco every year. The researchers found: “E-cigarettes appear to be helping a significant number of smokers to stop who would not have done otherwise—not as many as some e-cigarette enthusiasts claim, but a substantial number nonetheless.”

Redmond also points out that nicotine by itself is not the chief toxin in cigarettes (many people don’t realize that nicotine is not the cause of lung cancer or COPD caused by cigarettes). But, she does concede that nicotine is physically addictive, but she argues that it can be used as a maintenance medication much like methadone.

Redmond’s column got a lot of positive feedback from e-cig users thanking her. I’ve learned not to waste a lot of energy fighting with e-cig supporters; their support gets a little too fanatical for me to deal with, and if e-cigs have genuinely gotten you off cigarettes, then I don’t blame you for loving them.

However, I would take two issues with Redmond’s column. First of all, I think it completely glossed over the growing problem of teens using e-cigs and the oftentime pretty blatant marketing of e-cigarettes to kids, using images of race car drivers and women’s panties to make e-cigs appear sophisticated and sexy. The use of e-cigarettes by teens has tripled over the past three years. This IS a serious issue and to me the biggest problem with e-cigs.

These are not 20- or 30-year smokers desperate to get off of cigarettes. These are 15- and 16-year-olds who have found a new, cheap and easy to purchase online delivery system to get physically addicted to nicotine to begin with. While nicotine is not the most dangerous component of cigarettes, it is incredibly addictive and I would just as soon kids not get addicted to it in any form. Nicotine addiction by its basic definition is a bad thing. There is nothing good that will come out of nicotine addiction, no matter the delivery system. And studies have shown that kids who start off using e-cigs do move on to cigarettes more than kids who never use them.

Secondly, I also think Redmond seriously overstates the effectiveness of e-cigs in getting people off cigarettes. Despite the anecdotal evidence you will read all over the Internet, they are not some kind of miracle cure. Simply put, they don’t work for everyone. I have also talked to a number of people who have told me they didn’t do anything for them. She cites statistics about people quitting smoking thanks to e-cigs, and I don’t question the numbers she quotes, but I can also cite studies stating they are not especially effective in helping people quit cigarettes. Here is another study on that same point. What data that is out there is mixed at best.

E-cigs definitely work for some people. For people who have tried cold turkey or patches and failed to quit, go ahead and try e-cigs, you have nothing to lose. But, please don’t sell them as some of miracle cure for cigarettes. They don’t even come close to being that. They are just another nicotine replacement system that people can try when all else has failed.

In all seriousness, for every person who at times with a certain level of fanaticism tells me that e-cigs have been a lifesaver, I would love to go back to those same people in a year or two and ask them if they are still off cigarettes.  I think it’d be interesting to see.

So, e-cigs are going to continue to be controversial. I’ve made my position clear that if adults want to use them to quit smoking, they should be available and they apparently really do help some people; I don’t care if they’re not 100 percent successful, if they help some people, that’s great. But, the feds absolutely must crack down on the marketing to kids and sales of e-cig products to kid, including online sales.

No more mother@#$%ing vapes on the mother@#$%ing plane

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Hee, I stole that headline joke from this graphic.

I was shocked to find out that until this week, you could apparently use an e-cigarette on commercial flights (depending on the airline’s policies).

Not anymore. As of now, vaping is strictly prohibited on commercial flights. The U.S. Department of Transportation announced the new rule Thursday. It will take effect within 30 days.

From The Hill:

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the final rule applies to all flights with both national and foreign airline carriers traveling to and from the United States.

“This final rule is important because it protects airline passengers from unwanted exposure to aerosol fumes that occur when electronic cigarettes are used onboard airplanes,” Foxx said in a news release. “The Department took a practical approach to eliminate any confusion between tobacco cigarettes and e-cigarettes by applying the same restrictions to both.”

Not even getting into the unwanted aerosols issue and the fact that vapour has formaldehyde and diacetyl in it, these things do on rare occasion actually blow up and catch fire. I seriously would not want to be on an airplane with an e-cigarette suddenly erupting into flames. (Jesus, here’s another story about an exploding e-cigarette. There’s literally like one or two or these stories every week.) Just the potential of one of these things erupting on a plane is reason enough all by itself to ban them on airplanes.

 

California Assembly approves bills to raise smoking age to 21 and to regulate e-cigs

california legislature

The California State Assembly approved a bill this week to raise the state’s smoking age from 18 to 21. A number of cities and states have been doing this the past couple of years. I’ve on record as having a somewhat mixed view of this — 18-year-olds can vote, join the military and go to jail, but they can’t buy a pack of cigarettes? I get it that they can’t buy alcohol, but alcohol is an intoxicant.

Again, there is a big, big push going on to raise the smoking age to 21, and most of the tobacco control movement is behind it. Maybe I’m behind the times on this.   Whether I’m fully on board or not, this movement is gaining steam. The bill would prohibit stores from selling cigarettes to young adults between 18 and 20, but there would be no penalties for young adults for possession or using tobacco. I’m cool with that.

From a San Jose Mercury News story:

Young Bay Area residents had mixed reactions to the legislation.

“I’ve been smoking ever since my mom put my first cigarette into my hands at age 13,” said Juan Parada, a hip hop musician taking a smoking break Thursday in downtown San Jose. Now, at 21, he declares, “I know that each time I take a puff, I am killing myself slowly.”

Yet Parada, who performs under the moniker “Young Manny,” said increasing the smoking age to 21 will have little effect.

“Kids will find a way to get what they want — like getting an older person to buy cigarettes for them,” he said. “That’s what I did. That’s what lots of young kids do, and it’s just not that difficult.”

I guess my response to that is … your mom was giving you cigarettes when you were 13? … no offense, dude, but your mom is an idiot.

E-cigarette bill

However, I was more intrigued by another bill that also passed the Assembly — regulating e-cigarettes. Much overdue, in my opinion. The bill would treat e-cigarettes as a tobacco product, it would ban e-cigarette use in all workplaces and would require people selling e-cigarettes to get a special licence. It also would make it a misdemeanor to sell or provide vaping products to people under the age of 21 (I like this part of it because vaping has absolutely skyrocketed among teens in the past three years.). It doesn’t sound that strict, but it’s a beginning.  We’re all still waiting for the Food and Drug Administration federal regulations for e-cigarettes, so states are having to pass their own regulations.

These bills had been proposed in earlier years but got bogged down to a large degree because of lobbying from the tobacco industry. I found a couple of stories about just how powerful the tobacco lobby is in California. You’d be surprised to hear that California actually has one of the lowest tobacco taxes in the whole country — just 87 cents a pack. The Legislature simply will not pass a tobacco tax increase and tobacco industry lobbying is a reason why. California alone represents nearly 10 percent of the cigarette market in the entire country.

From a Sacramento Bee article:

Major tobacco companies Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds spent $1 million lobbying lawmakers in 2015. R.J. Reynolds also gave $240,000 to candidates and campaign committees last year, while Philip Morris contributed $1 million, including $200,000 to the California Republican Party.

Democrats who voted against or abstained on the tobacco measures received at least $26,000 from the two companies last year. In November and December, they gave a combined $35,000 to a ballot committee run by Assemblyman Adam Gray, a Merced Democrat who chairs the influential Governmental Organization Committee and voted against raising the smoking age to 21.

The two Republicans who voted for the bill, Catharine Baker of Dublin and David Hadley of Manhattan Beach, returned almost $11,000 in contributions from the tobacco companies over the summer.

In remarks to reporters after the vote, Assembly Speaker-elect Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, called the tobacco industry “a strong force in this town” and alluded to “threats involving electoral efforts” against legislators.

“It’s exceptionally aggressive,” Rendon said.

Both bills go to the State Senate, where they are expected to pass.

A ballot measure to raise California’s cigarette tax by $2 a pack is being proposed. The last similar ballot measure (Again, the Legislature won’t approve a cigarette tax measure, so it keeps getting punted to the voters)  in California failed by just a few thousand votes after Big Tobacco spent millions to defeat it. However, this ballot measure is being proposed for November, when voter turnout is expected to be very heavy, in part because there will be another ballot measure to legalize pot in California.

Yet more stories of exploding e-cigs burning people

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Damn, there were at least a dozen stories today on the tobacco news about exploding e-cigarettes. I posted something about this some time ago.

In a story I found all over the place, some guy in Utah was badly burned by his e-cigarette battery exploding in his pants while he was driving.  He ended up in the hospital with second- and third-degree burns on his hands and legs. Sounds awful. Don’t watch the video unless you have a strong stomach. The fire was so bad, it literally melted his pants to his car seat.

Well, these are probably still a bit rare, but according to this story from Seattle, it’s a growing problem. Harborview Medical Center in Seattle reported that it treated four people in the past three months alone for severe burns caused by exploding e-cigarettes

From a Yakima Herald article:

National fire experts say the Harborview cases are part of a small but disturbing trend linked to battery failures in the popular devices often touted as a safer substitute for tobacco cigarettes.

“I realized that this was something that was happening more frequently than we had previously recognized,” said Dr. Elisha Brownson, the Harborview trauma and burn critical-care fellow who’s tracking the problem.

“I just think that if people really knew this could explode in your face, they would consider twice putting a device like this to their mouth.”

Remember, these things are cheaply made and are often made in China where safety standards are pretty lax. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, there were 25 injuries in the U.S. caused by e-cigarette explosions between 2009 and 2014. Well, heck, e-cig use has exploded (no pun intended) since 2014, so I bet that number has gone up quite a bit. The number of nicotine poisonings from e-cig vials has gone up exponentially in the past two years, mostly because many more people are using them than ever before.

In a couple of cases cited in this article, one person lost 12 teeth when an e-cig blew up in his mouth. Another woman had injuries to her nose when an e-cig explosion ripped out her nose ring.

This brings up the fact that sticking anything that generates heat into your mouth is going to have an inherent danger. One issue with cigarettes was the number of fires — both home and wildland — caused by cigarettes. At one time, it was estimated that over 1,000 people a year were being killed in the U.S. in cigarette fires (Obviously, that number has dropped largely because the smoking rate has dropped … and it still pales by comparison to the 400,000 who die from tobacco-related illnesses, I know). I’m amazed my dad never burned down the house. His smoking habit left burns in all of the furniture in the house, including his bed and linens.

Research: Candy-flavoured e-cig advertisements attract teen users

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This is an article from Medical Daily about research that strongly suggests that candy-flavoured e-cigarette products really are encouraging more teenagers to take up vaping.

Teen vaping has become a big deal. The rate of teens who use e-cigarettes triplied between 2013 and 2014, from about 4.5 percent to about 13 percent. I assume that figure is likely far higher than 13 percent now. In fact, the rate of teens who vape is higher than the rate of teens who smoke. And further research shows that a higher percentage of kids using e-cigs eventually move on to real cigarettes than those who never take up e-cigs.

Anyway, researchers from the  Behavior and Health Research Unit at the University of Cambridge said their work showed that kids shown ads for candy-flavoured e-cigs were more likely to want to try e-cigs than kids showed generic ads for e-cigs or kids showed no ads at all.

From the article:

“We’re cautiously optimistic from our results that e-cigarette ads don’t make tobacco smoking more attractive, but we’re concerned that ads for e-cigarettes, with flavors that might appeal to school children, could encourage them to try the products,” said Dr. Milica Vasiljevic, from the Department of Public Health and Primary Care at the University of Cambridge, in a press release.

The Food and Drug Administration has been for some time now mulling new regulations for e-cigarettes. The FDA has already proposed banning e-cig sales to minors (already banned in the vast majority of states, though there is virtually no control over online sales of e-cigarette products). However, in its draft regulations, the FDA proposed ZERO regulations over e-cigarette advertising, even though the federal government has very strict control over cigarette advertising (no cigarette ads on TV or radio and no cartoon images or characters allowed in print ads as per the 1998 Master Settilement Agreement).

If you don’t believe these e-cig ads are pretty damn blatant about marketing their products to teens as being cool and hip, check out this infamous Blu E-Cigs Cherry Crush ad:

Me and a hell of a lot of other people ripped on FDA during the comment period about the lack of controls over e-cigarette marketing and advertising. The FDA was handed regulatory authority over nicotine products and e-cigs absolutely contain nicotine just like cigarettes, so from where I sit, it certainly appears the FDA has authority to control e-cig advertising, which has been very, very blatant as far as trying to market e-cigs to kids.

A lot of people and tobacco advocacy groups are also not happy about all the candy flavourings in general for e-cigs. Candy-flavoured cigarettes were banned by the FDA a few years ago (but Swisher Sweet cigars are still OK for some reason). I’m personally not as dogmatic about this issue (since I have talked to a lot of adult e-cig users who like the candy flavours), but I am adamant that the FDA needs to crack down — hard — on e-cig marketing to kids.

Anyway, will the FDA ultimately crack down on e-cig advertising? We’ll see. The agency has been working on its final regs for almost a couple of years now, so maybe that’s encouraging that it took the reams of comments about e-cigs  and e-cig advertising seriously.

Study: Fruity flavourings in e-cigs contain chemicals behind “popcorn lung”

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Yes, “popcorn lung” is actually a thing.

Another negative study about e-cigarettes. This one comes from researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (If I had the energy, I’d check out Michael Seigel’s e-cigarette apologist blog to see him point out how the researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health have no idea what they’re doing … anyway, I digress.).

Popcorn lung doesn’t actually make lung tissue look like popcorn. It’s a name given to a disease called bronchiolitis obliterans. It got the name “popcorn lung” because scientists discovered that chemicals called diacetyl, 2,3-pentanedione and acetoin, which are used in artificial butter flavouring for popcorn, can cause lung disease, especially in people who work in packaging plants. 

Well, guess what? Those sweer and surgary e-cig flavourings also give off large amounts of diacetyl, acetoin and 2,3-pentanedione. This study found that these chemicals are found in e-cig vapour in 47 out of 51 flavours. That’s 93 percent.. Nice. OSHA has strict guidelines to how these chemicals are handled in workplaces, but they just show right up in e-cig vapour.

Bronchiolitis obliterans was first brought to light in 2000  when eight employees at a popcorn plant in Missouri developed lung illnesses. It causes dry wheezing, a cough and shortness of breath. One of the effects of this disease is that  air can actually get trapped in the lungs because of obstruction from scar tissue or inflammation. The overinflation of the lungs limits the ability to breathe in fresh oxygen molecules. There was actually a high-profile case of some guy who ate microwave popcorn every day for 10 years developing this disease. He won a multi-million lawsuit over it.

popcorn

And dang, I always liked popcorn. Now, I’m paranoid of it. At least microwave popcorn.

So, this is part of a growing body of evidence showing that e-cigarettes are not completely benign and harmless. Other studies have shown that e-cig vapour contains a lot of formaldehyde. Are they still safer  than cigarettes? Do some former smokers swear by them? Sure. But, they certainly aren’t inert. And keep in mind, they are completely unregulated for the moment, in particular there are NO rulles whatsoever about sweet and surgery e-cig flavourings, which a lot of tobacco control advocates are convinced are used to entice teenagers. And it certainly seems like the more e-cigs are studied, the more nasty toxins are found contained in the vapour. It wasn’t that long ago that the industry and e-cig advocates were insisting that e-cigarette vapour was entirely, wholly innocuous.

In short, this means that e-cigs absolutely, positively must be regulated and studied further, and more must be done to keep teens from being enticed by e-cigs (ie, cracking down on e-cig marketing to teenagers.). Much is still not known about this relatively new product.

 

Taking a closer look at teen smoking trends; what a long, frustrating trip it’s been

Teen smoking rate

Yesterday, I posted about a Washington Post article examining the dropping smoking rate in the U.S. since 1970. As part of that article was information about teen smoking. I thought it was worth exploring in a second post.

Cutting the teen smoking rate is critical to stamping out smoking because virtually no one takes up smoking past the age of 21. Most smokers started when they were 16, 15, 14 years old. If a kid can make it to 19 without taking up smoking, he or she will likely never take up smoking.

It’s been a very frustrating battle to cut back on teen smoking, with both Big Tobacco and Hollywood conspiring to fight anti-tobacco efforts. However, the teen smoking rate has absolutely collapsed in the past couple of years; unfortunately, not necessarily for a good reason.

Teen smoking rate2

 

I made a second graph using my Excel skillz showing the teen smoking rate, then added some explanations for what has been going on for the past 25 years.

The teen smoking rate was incredibly high in the 1990s, peaking in 1997. What is considered the biggest culprit for this? Joe Camel. Joe Camel was introduced by RJ Reynolds in 1987 and was a disgustingly brazen attempt by RJR to lure teens into the smoking world with an aggressive campaign showing Joe Camel as cool, suave, sophisticated, hip, etc. Joe Camel was portrayed as an Air Force pilot, a motorcyclist, a James Bond character, etc.

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RJ Reynolds never copped to this of course, but internal documents released by the various court cases confirmed it. According to these documents:

  1. A) In 1974, RJR’s Vice-President of Marketing gave a presentation that “young adult market . . . represent[s] tomorrow’s cigarette business. As this 14-24 age group matures, they will account for a key share of the total cigarette volume – for at least the next 25 years.”
  2. B) A 1974 memo by the R. J. Reynolds Research Department points out that capturing the young adult market is vital because “virtually all [smokers] start by the age of 25” and “most smokers begin smoking regularly and select a usual brand at or before the age of 18.

So they were absolutely going after kids. Joe Camel was incredibly successful. The teen smoking rate in 1991 was 27.5 percent and by 1997, it had grown to 36.4 percent (even as the adult smoking rate was plummeting during this time).

Then came along the Master Settlement Agreement in 1998. The MSA is much-maligned for not doing as much as it could have to stamp out smoking, but it did one extremely important thing — it banned Joe Camel. RJ Reynolds and other tobacco companies were no longer allowed to use cartoon characters (Many years ago, Kool used a cartoon penguin to market its brand) in their advertisements. One of the other things the MSA banned was the product placement of tobacco products in Hollywood movies.

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No more on-screen smoking for you, Wolverine

This had a remarkable effect on reducing teen smoking, as did the billions of MSA funds spent on tobacco education programs in schools. The teen smoking rate dropped down to 21.9 percent by 2003.

Then a very weird thing took place. The teen smoking rate actually went UP in 2005, to 23.0 percent. What happened? One very big thing. States began to figure out they weren’t actually required to spend MSA funds on tobacco education and cessation programs and they started diverting the MSA payouts to their general funds simply balancing their budgets. Funding for anti-tobacco programs dried up. And the teen smoking rate rose. It was an incredibly frustrating period.

The other bizarre thing that happened is that even though placement of tobacco products was specifically banned in Hollywood movies, the rate of smoking scenes in PG-13, PG and even G movies actually went UP … even though Hollywood supposedly wasn’t collecting a nickel from Big Tobacco. They were literally giving Big Tobacco free advertising because Hollywood was stuck in this insane notion that smoking was cool and hip.

When it became apparent that Hollywood studios were part of the problem, a movement began to require an R rating for smoking scenes. Finally in 2008, the MPAA agreed to consider R ratings for smoking scenes. The policy isn’t perfect, but I think it’s actually worked, because movie studios don’t like R ratings and they just don’t want to bother butting heads with the MPAA over these ratings when they plan well ahead of time for movies to be rated PG-13. So, even well-known smoking Marvel characters such as Wolverine and Nick Fury were forced to stop chomping their cigars.

So, that teen smoking rate started dropping — to 18 percent in 2011 and 15.7 percent in 2013. Partly because of the lack of smoking in movies marketed to teens, I believe and partly because of the great work done by the Truth Campaign, a non-governmental, non-profit organization that’s been around since the late 1990s fighting teen smoking with a series of really good anti-smoking ads on TV and YouTube. Truth was originally funded with MSA funds, but that source has dried up and is now funded by donations and savvy investments.

girl e-cigarette
Kids using e-cigs … it makes me crazy.

The recent rapid drop in teen smoking is great, except for one caveat. The biggest reason for the recent collapse in the teen smoking rate (now, down below 10 percent) is the rapid rise in the popularity of e-cigs. The teen use of e-cigs tripled from 2013 to 2014 and in fact now, many more teens vape (13.4 percent in 2014 and I guarantee that number is higher now) than smoke. This is a mixed bag. On the one hand, teens aren’t smoking. But, on the other hand, they are getting addicted to nicotine. No nicotine addiction at all is the ideal. And studies have shown that a higher percentage of kids who vape eventually take up smoking than those who don’t vape. The Food and Drug Administration plans to ban e-cig sales to minors, but they need to crack down on e-cig marketing to teens (e-cig companies are using the EXACT same marketing techniques as Big Tobacco did 20 years ago to appeal to teens) and online sales of e-cig products.