Column: Questions about e-cigarettes are unanswered

By Ruth Tripp

Clearly, cigarette use has risks for users and non-users. The risks are not so clear for e-cigarette users.

In terms of protecting our health, there is no evidence to clearly support or oppose the use of e-cigarettes, only concerns. From a public health perspective, it is important to share these concerns in order to make an informed decision about potential e-cigarette use.

E-cigarettes are often touted as a safer alternative to cigarettes and have been promoted as a method to help smokers quit. E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that allow users to inhale a vaporized liquid nicotine solution instead of tobacco smoke. They were designed as a way for smokers to get their nicotine fix without exposing themselves, or other people, to the toxins in tobacco smoke, which may sound like a good thing.

Because these products are so new and have not been fully studied, we do not know if they are safe for users or those nearby. Unknown answers include whether e-cigarettes are safe for their intended use, how much nicotine or other potentially harmful chemicals are being inhaled during use and if they actually do help people quit using tobacco.

A recent study looked at vapor inhaled, as well as emissions released when the person exhales, which suggests that ultrafine particles are deposited into the lung.

It is safe to say that an immediate concern is if e-cigarettes may lead young people to try tobacco products, including conventional cigarettes, which are known to cause disease and lead to premature death. The Bloomington Public Health mission is “to promote, protect and care for the health of our community.” As such, we work very hard to reduce tobacco exposure and prevent people from starting to use tobacco. We are especially concerned about the vulnerability of youth to influences such as from tobacco companies who target youth.

It was alarming that, according to the last Minnesota Student Survey, cigarette use increased among ninth-grade males in Bloomington for the first time in 15 years. Dr. Regina Benjamin, United States Surgeon General, released a report in 2012 and called on the nation to make the next generation tobacco free. Each day more than 1,200 people die due to smoking. For every one of those deaths, at least two new youths or young adults become regular smokers. Ninety percent of these young people smoke their first cigarette before they turn age 18.

Evidence in the 2012 Surgeon General’s report clearly demonstrates the need for intensified and sustained efforts to prevent our young people from using tobacco. For more information about Bloomington Public Health tobacco prevention efforts, visit Bloomington’s website or call the Public Health Division at 952-563-8900.

Ruth Tripp is a health specialist with Bloomington Public Health.