Even today, it seems too futuristic to be true. Imagine if 7 years ago someone told you that they were going to make smoking electronic. Would you have really believed them? What would the potential benefit of such devices be anyway?
Breathing in heated-water-vapor laced with nicotine and other chemicals, known as vaping, is a growing trend amongst Americans, particularly among youth. There are numerous causes for vaping growth from an odd niche hobby to something widespread amongst high schoolers and middle schoolers, with uncertain consequences.
One of the chief ways vaping became popular was because of the distinct absence of legislation regulating it. Its presence as a new technology allowed it to fly under the radar of legislators and health officials, meaning that there was less regulation around it than traditional cigarettes. For example, in the United States there are laws in place which ban the advertisement of cigarettes and cigars on television. However, companies that produce equipment for vaping were eager to get on screen and announce in a low-budget manner that their product was water vapor–not smoke. Even more, e-cigs can be purchased over the internet as long as one claims they’re over 18.
The health implications of vaping, much like its legal status, are still mired in a swamp of ambiguity and uncertainty. Some sources, such as the Independent, state that “E-cigarettes could be more dangerous than we think“. A study reported on by The Guardian contends they are safer than conventional cigarettes, but a study reported on by ScienceNews concludes that they are just as bad. The Truth Campaign contends that most vapor smoke contains formaldehyde, which is also used to preserve dead animals. The News Site Wired details a very sinister marketing war between those who would prefer to sell e-cigs and those who would prefer to stop them.
There are a few obvious reasons as to why someone would be driven to vape. The reason the vaping industry would rather you believe is that the primary function and purpose of e-cigs is to help habitual smokers smoke something less harmful, or quit smoking altogether. The end result may be the opposite–that the candy-flavored vapors sold with e-cigs are meant to trick a new generation of youth who weren’t likely to consume nicotine into doing just that.
The second, and a more sinister possibility to consider, is that e-cigs are marketed as a way for teenagers to look cool, supposedly without the harmful effects of traditional tobacco products. There’s no doubt that the image of the cool, cigarette-smoking cowboy has endured for decades after advertisements for tobacco products were banned from being shown on television. This so-called “Marlboro Man”, an American cultural icon, was merely a character created by tobacco companies to help further the cigarette as something cool people, and hard-working Americans smoked. Most depictions of the Marlboro man are laughably cheesy to a modern youth, but smoking is ingrained in American culture, even if only as a sign of rebellion. Thus, the idea of being able to smoke without the taste or smell becomes increasingly attractive. For people who have fought their whole lives to educate children on the dangers of smoking, such as those at the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program, this is a nightmare scenario.
A study in the journal of Tobacco Control states that there were 466 brands of e-cigs for sale at the beginning of 2014. For comparison, the Nebraska department of revenue reports that there were 132 brands of cigarettes for sale in the year 2015. Vaping is a large, rapidly growing industry with an exploding consumer base. For those who own these companies and sell e-cigs, the money is certainly rolling in at the moment.
Several groups are currently pushing to begin regulation of vaping equipment and liquid. How quickly they can find any success must be told in time. The most qualified of these groups is the Food and Drug Administration. They’ve begun the process of placing hefty regulations and restrictions on the sale of e-cigs and vaping equipment, making lots of progress over the summer of 2015. Regulations might include banning marketing an e-cig as “safer than smoking”.
Despite e-cigs being a growing trend amongst youth, there’s no real benefit and a lot of risk attached to them. The idea that e-cigs are a great “safer alternative to smoking” is a nervous reassurance at best.