There are those who will look at the American Heart Association's first policy statement on electronic cigarettes as an endorsement of a product that has not been proved to cause cancer and, therefore, is a reasonable alternative to smoking real cigarettes.
And there are those who will look at the statement as a condemnation of a product that has exploded onto the market, is virtually unregulated, has enticed nonsmokers and children to get hooked on nicotine in a fun and tasty way and given smokers a way to still get their fix in social situations in a state that has taken great lengths over many years to impede public smoking.
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Put us squarely in the latter camp.
E-cigarettes, like old-fashioned tobacco cigarettes, are just plain bad. How bad is yet to be determined. Don't think for a moment that they are a safe alternative to cigarettes.
The Heart Assocation's position is this: Only if proven smoking cessation methods, including counseling and nicotine patches, fail, "it is reasonable to have a conversation" about e-cigarettes. The American Cancer Society has weighed in with a similar stance.
Ten years after the advent of e-cigarettes, there are 466 brands and 7,764 unique flavors of e-cigarette products on the market, according to the Heart Association's recent report. Because of the relative newness of e-cig products, the vast array of them, the various concentrations of "juice" and the ever-changing technologies being introduced, scientists are having a tough time gauging their potential health effects. The process of creating nicotine vapor with the aid of a tiny heating coil has its inherent dangers: tin, silver, cadmium and other metals have been found to be cast off in the process and sucked into the lungs. And while e-cigs don't have the tar tobacco cigarettes do, nicotine itself is an addictive stimulant with deleterious health effects.
"There are concerns that e-cigarette use and acceptance of e-cigarettes has the potential to renormalize smoking behavior, dual use, and initiate or maintain nicotine addiction," the Heart Association says. "Adolescents view e-cigarettes as safer than conventional cigarettes, more convenient to use and more readily accessible. Their attraction to these 'high-tech' devices is fueled further by the marketing practices of the tobacco industry (which appeal to younger consumers)."
The report suggests that e-cigs can be a gateway to other substances. We've even seen in some of our suburban schools that kids are using e-cigs to inhale a liquefied form of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
The Heart Association advocates extensive regulation -- labeling, manufacturing standards, prohibition of marketing and sale to minors -- that apply to tobacco cigarettes. And it suggests treating e-cigs the same way as cigarettes in terms of smoke-free air laws. Some suburbs already have taken that step.
We strongly encourage the same, and we advocate that all suburbs apply the same standards to e-cigs as they do to tobacco cigarettes.
It's time we stop treating them as harmless toys. They're anything but.