E-cigarettes give students new choices


By Dale Shoemaker / Staff Writer

The nicotine market’s newest competitor, the electronic cigarette, is gaining popularity among teenagers and young adults — including Pitt students.

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs, are battery-powered vaporizers that produce an aerosol vapor that resembles cigarette smoke. Presently, little research exists on the health effects of e-cig vapor. No evidence has suggested that the vapor contains any contaminates detrimental to health. According to a report in May by Public Health England, an executive agency in the U.K. Department of Health, electronic cigarettes first hit the market in China in 2003. 

In the chamber of an e-cig, the battery activates either by a button on the outside of the cartridge or by a sensor on the inside that activates when the user inhales. The battery then heats up a coil in the liquid chamber, which vaporizes the liquid. The user then inhales the vapor. 

The liquid is a mixture of propylene glycol, a solvent, plus nicotine and, often, a flavoring component. In the Public Health England report, researchers said this liquid “is not known to have adverse effects on the lungs.” The nicotine content of the liquid varies per producer.

White Cloud Electronic Cigarettes, a company based in Tarpon Springs, Fla., that produces e-cigs, said most e-cig liquids, including their own, contain between 0.8 percent and 2.4 percent nicotine by volume. They also said that some of their liquids contain up to 5.4 percent nicotine by volume.

When inhaled, the vapor enters the bloodstream through the upper airway. This pathway is slower than the one taken by cigarette smoke, but the amount of nicotine in e-cigs is often greater than that of a traditional cigarette, the English report said.

University spokeswoman Cara Masset said Pitt does not yet have a policy regarding e-cigarettes in University buildings. 

But health officials are concerned about the explosive popularity of e-cigs. In September 2013, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention published data that showed e-cig use by U.S. middle and high school students doubled from 2011 to 2012. More than 1.78 million middle and high school students tried electronic cigarettes nationwide in 2012, according to the CDC data. 

“About 90 percent of all smokers begin smoking as teenagers,” said Dr. Tim McAfee, director of the CDC Office on Smoking and Health in the CDC press release. “We must keep our youth from experimenting or using any tobacco product. These dramatic increases suggest that developing strategies to prevent marketing, sales and use of e-cigarettes among youth is critical.” 

But other data is not as damning.

The American Journal of Preventive Medicine published a study in April 2011 that found using e-cigs could help cigarette smokers reduce or cease use.

In a survey of 216 smokers, 48.8 percent of respondents quit or abstained from smoking cigarettes for “some period of time” — the length of which went unspecified — while 66.8 percent of respondents reported reducing the number of cigarettes they smoked daily after beginning electronic cigarette use.

As for the general public, the FDA doesn’t yet regulate electronic cigarettes. It issued a proposed rule earlier this year that would allow it to regulate electronic cigarettes as it does other tobacco products.

In the meantime, producers and distributors of traditional cigarettes and electronic cigarettes profit. Reynolds American, producer of Camel and Pall Mall, purchased Lorillard, producer of Newport cigarettes and now electronic cigarettes, in July for $25 billion. 

Local businesses are also profiting.

An electronic cigarette typically costs between $20 and $30, and refill cartridges of nicotine fluid cost between $8 and $12 on electroniccigarettes.com.  Ben Getty, district manager of several 7-Eleven convenience stores in the Pittsburgh area, declined to release sales data but said e-cigs are “a new market” for 7-Eleven.

“We’ve received wonderful feedback [from customers],” he said. 

Despite the popularity and success of e-cigs with consumers, an uneasy social stigma shrouds the use of e-cigs.Last spring, Graeme Meyer, a Student Government Board member, started an initiative to make Pitt’s campus smoke-free based on an online survey of students and faculty. He based his efforts on policies at the University of Georgia, which banned all smoking including e-cigarettes last October. Pitt’s smoking policies have not yet changed since Meyer’s survey concluded. 

Last spring, Patricia Tuite encountered e-cigs for the the first time.

Tuite, a registered nurse and assistant professor at Pitt, was at her daughter’s high school soccer game. As she was walking around, trying to get a better view, she passed a man smoking. She was appalled. 

“He shouldn’t be smoking here,” she thought. 

As she passed him, however, she said she did not smell any smoke. She thought it unusual.

“Oh,” she thought, “it must be one of those e-cigarettes.”