Sitting in a movie theater is one of the last places one would expect to see someone smoking. But there he was, a man who appeared to be in his mid-20s puffing away on an e-cigarette one afternoon last summer at a movie theater in St. Louis.
E-cigarettes are battery-operated products designed to deliver nicotine, flavor and other chemicals. They “turn chemicals, including highly addictive nicotine, into an aerosol that is inhaled by the user,” according to the web site for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. But because e-cigarettes are not regulated, and they give off water vapor instead of harmful smoke, it was perfectly legal for the man in the theater to smoke.
There are also not many studies that provide information about this growing trend, according to the FDA. Are they healthier? What are the cost benefits versus buying regular cigarettes? Can the devices actually help people quit smoking? What demographic do these e-cigarette companies more closely target?
The cost benefit of e-cigarettes versus regular cigarettes is a draw for some. While regular cigarettes have been heavily taxed to the point that a pack will generally cost over $5, e-cigarettes have not seen the same taxation. While the device can cost anywhere from $30-$75 for a typical reloadable one, the cost of a 30mL cartridge is only $15 and that will last the average person about two weeks.
Since they have not been fully studied, the FDA warns that they do not know how much nicotine is being inhaled with each puff or what the potential risks or benefits of e-cigarettes could be.
SMU professor of biological sciences, Dr. Christine Buchanan, says e-cigarettes “came out without much of a study.” There is not enough information to be found on the e-cigarettes to make a fully informed decision on their pros and cons.
‘They’re just another habit the world doesn’t need,” she said.
Many students on SMU’s campus report seeing e-cigarettes used in unexpected places. Senior Spencer Schwartz said he recently saw someone smoking an e-cigarette on an airplane.
More than that, though, it appears that many students who have come in contact with them see e-cigarettes as a “healthier” option. SMU sophomore Maureen Martin, who smokes Pall Malls five days a week, says she doesn’t see how e-cigarettes could be any unhealthier because they don’t have all the toxins and carcinogens of regular cigarettes.
Freshman Connor Chase said he’s “poorly informed about them, but they seem less addictive” and he’s heard they’re “better for you” than real cigarettes.
The buzz surrounding e-cigarettes has garnered attention from news outlets as well. The New York Times recently published an article on the dangers of e-cigarettes and, more specifically, the e-liquid that goes into the refillable devices. The liquid form of the nicotine drug is so toxic the article claims “A teaspoon of even highly diluted e-liquid can kill a small child.”
With e-liquids coming out in a variety of flavors – from typical tobacco and menthol, to red hot and fruit punch – the e-cigarettes may tend to draw in a younger crowd by making using an e-cig sound bright and fun.
The notion of e-cigarettes being healthier may persist because the lack of information allows people to think they are. The only deterrence seems to be, for those who smoke regular cigarettes, that you have to smoke the e-cigarette more in order to get the same nicotine buzz.
Some SMU students say they think people use e-cigarettes to quit smoking, but Martin says her friends who tried to switch in order to quit have just begun to smoke the e-cigarette more often.
Currently, there is no information that shows using e-cigarettes can help someone quit smoking. The only possible sign is that it provides a smaller dose of nicotine per puff than cigarettes.
The FDA does regulate some e-cigarettes, but only those “marketed for therapeutic purposes.” The FDA, according to its web site, intends to “issue a proposed rule extending FDA’s tobacco product authorities beyond the above products to include other products like e-cigarettes.”
The FDA noted on its site that they have been contacted about health issues possibly related to e-cigarettes, including pneumonia and congestive heart failure, but without any conclusive evidence they cannot yet prove the dangers using e-cigarettes poses.