by Elaine Keller
“Electronic cigarettes are starting to catch on, with the industry expected to hit nearly $2 billion in sales this year alone. I’m Tom Bemis from MarketWatch with a look at five things e-cigarettes won’t tell you,” he says. MarketWatch is a production of the Wall Street Journal.
He then jubilantly proceeds to announce 5 big fat whoppers about e-cigarettes. Let’s take a look at what Bemis did not tell you about e-cigarettes with some corrections of his disinformation:
Number 5. E-cigarettes really are just for nicotine. Bemis claims that e-cigarettes are easily adaptable to all kinds of substances, notably marijuana, and potentially crack cocaine.
That’s so untrue it is laughable. Bemis appears to be confusing e-cigarettes with devices specifically designed for heating oils or dried ground solids. There are devices designed to vaporize hash oil or solutions of THC. These devices need to reach a temperature of 157 C. (more details)
However, most e-cigarettes operate at about 60 C because they are heating a glycol-based liquid to the vaporization point. (more details)
Therefore, commercially available e-cigarettes are of no use in vaporizing cannabis or other substances. About the only part of an e-cigarette that can be used with one of those other devices is the battery. So to draw a parallel, my camera uses AA batteries. So does my TV remote control. Does that mean that my remote control can be easily adapted to take pictures?
Number 4. E-cigarettes are not “Big Tobacco”. Major tobacco companies are relatively late arrivals in this market. Today’s e-cigarettes were invented (or re-derived, depending on who you ask) by a Chinese pharmacist and had been sold world-wide for several years by mostly small, independent companies, when Lorillard purchased Blu ecigs in 2012, the first major move into the market by a traditional tobacco company. So far, they are the only U.S. tobacco company with an e-cigarette product that is sold across the country. The other two of the biggest three tobacco companies are only just now trying out their products in test markets.
Whether major tobacco companies will take over the market remains to be seen. Ironically, the tobacco control activists whose mission is to destroy the established tobacco companies are screaming the loudest for strict government regulation. But if that regulation turns out to be too costly to comply with, all the small, independent companies will go out of business, leaving the market to be dominated by the established major tobacco companies.
Number 3. E-cigarette marketers are not claiming e-cigarettes are “safe” as Bemis seems to believe. They can’t make health claims without running into trouble with the FDA. And furthermore, e-cigarettes don’t need to be 100% safe. They only need to be much safer than the product they are replacing, which they are. The concept is called harm reduction. If people do not choose to stop doing something dangerous (or, as it is commonly phrased, they “cannot quit”), then offer them a way to reduce their health risks. One example of harm reduction in practice is lowing the severity of auto accident injuries by installing seat belts and air bags in cars. Another example of harm reduction is offering methadone, an opiate that doesn’t impair cognitive processing, as a substitute to heroin addicts.
Tobacco harm reduction (THR) is practiced by replacing the most hazardous delivery mechanism, cigarette smoking, with nicotine from other sources. These can include e-cigarettes, smokeless tobacco products, and even pharmaceutical nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products used indefinitely as a substitute for smoking. Decades of research show that smokers who switch to modern smokeless tobacco products have do not have a detectably higher rate of any cancer compared to any other former smoker. This is also true for strokes and heart attacks.
And while Bemis mentions that “studies have still showed carcinogens in the vapor that gets inhaled,” that’s not quite right. In a 2009 study, the FDA found some tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs), in the liquid of a few samples. The largest measure of TSNAs reported in liquid has been 8.2 ng/ml, equivalent to the amount in a medicinal nicotine patch. These presumed carcinogens are present in such tiny quantities that they are “roughly equivalent to 1/1000 of the concentration of TSNAs in modern smokeless tobacco products”
There is zero evidence that “secondary vapor has been shown to cause respiratory and disease problems” as Bemis declares. Even the few reports that claimed to show harmful results of inhaling primary vapor turned out to be lies. (more details) Dr. Igor Burstyn, who conducted a comprehensive review of scientific studies of e-cigarette liquids and vapor, pointed out, “exposure experienced by bystanders is clearly very low compared to the exposure of vapers, and thus there is no reason to expect it would have any health effects.”
Number 2. E-cigarettes cannot be marketed as a smoking cessation tool, as Bemis claims, without running afoul of the law — specifically the drug marketing regulations of the FDA. E-cigarettes are marketed as a consumer product and as an alternative to smoking. If you replace all of your smoked cigarettes with e-cigarettes, and you no longer inhale smoke, you really have stopped smoking. Really! Even your doctor will agree once he sees that your lung problems are clearing up, you’re using your asthma inhaler less often, and you seem to have more stamina. (further reading on this)
Number 1. Most intelligent readers recognize “Kids love ’em” as nothing short of pure propaganda. According to Bemis, this is because e-cigarettes can be purchased in pleasant-tasting flavors, and only kids like flavors. Does anyone really believe that adults don’t enjoy flavors? Do adults order unflavored ice cream at the 31 Flavors store? Chew unflavored nicotine gum? Chew unflavored any kind of gum?
Most new e-cigarette users try to find a liquid that matches the flavor of their favorite brand of tobacco cigarette. When that proves impossible, they may try a fruit, beverage, or candy flavor, just as an experiment. They often come to prefer the more pleasant flavors and to find tobacco flavors distasteful. Many who switch to interesting flavors report that when they later tried to smoke a real cigarette, they were unable to take more than one puff because they now hated the taste. That would make pleasant-tasting vapor one of the first reported potentially effective measures against relapsing. While we do not have great data about most e-cigarette users, we know that a majority of those who become dedicated enthusiasts use fruit, beverage, or candy flavored liquid.
I will give Bemis credit for one thing. At least he used the word “tried” rather than “used” when talking about the e-cigarette statistic that doubled among middle school and high school students. Because that’s all it was. Ever tried. Experimentation. We don’t know what proportion of students were using them regularly, because the only question the CDC asked related to frequency of use of e-cigarettes was whether they used one during the past 30 days, on at least one day.
When CDC referred to what they collected data on as “use”, they implied daily, or at least frequent, use on an ongoing basis. We do not know how many kids use one daily. All we know is that it is much lower than the “ever tried” category and even lower than the 2.1 percent of kids who tried an e-cigarette at least once during the 30 days prior to the survey.
Now here is something for Tom Bemis to consider. His presentation was entertaining, energetic, and sounded sincere. However, as detailed above, he is very wrong about a number of verifiable facts. What if, by promoting all of this false information, Bemis has managed to convince even one smoker who was considering switching to an e-cigarette that it would not be in his or her best interests to do so?
And what if that smoker is not inclined to quit without a substitute, even after trying medically recommended methods dozens of times? And what if that smoker develops a tumor or has a heart attack or stroke that would have been avoided if he or she had just stopped inhaling smoke a little sooner? Does that make Tom Bemis morally responsible for their misfortune?
It’s a possibility.