By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
There’s no fire, and they don’t smell bad. What’s so bad about e-cigarettes?
Plenty, say area experts.
It may seem like e-cigarettes, also called electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), offer safe smoking or aid in quitting tobacco, but that’s not so, according to Deb Mendzef, coordinator at the CNY Regional Center for Tobacco Health Systems at St. Joseph’s Health.
“They continue the cycle of addiction and cause harm to the body,” Mendzef said. “ENDS are not safer than traditional cigarettes.”
Starting nicotine now can make the addiction much, much harder to break later.
“Ninety-five percent of adult smokers began smoking before they turned 21,” Mendzef said.
ENDS also act as a gateway to smoking traditional cigarettes. Mendzef said that youth using ENDS are up to seven times as likely to use regular cigarettes someday.
What’s worse is that the chemicals ENDS contain are harmful for users.
JUUL, a popular brand, states on its website that their product “contains chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm,” according to California Proposition 65.
“There is growing evidence that ENDS products contain many harmful chemicals that can have a negative effect on the body when inhaled or ingested,” said Christopher Owens, director of the CNY Regional Center for Tobacco Health Systems at St. Joseph’s Health.
They include formaldehyde, toluene, cadmium, lead, nickel and benzene. No long-term research is available to show how much damage these can cause.
“We don’t know the long-term effects of e-cigarettes,” said physician Leslie J. Kohman, who serves on the board of directors of the Eastern Division Board of the American Cancer Society and works as a thoracic surgeon specializing in thoracic oncology at Upstate Medical University.
She quoted a 2018 report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM), which found the effect of e-cigarette use on cigarette smoking initiation to be causal, concluding that “There is substantial evidence that e-cigarette use increases risk of ever using combustible tobacco cigarettes among youth and young adults.”
The NASEM report also concluded, “There is moderate evidence that e-cigarette use increases the frequency of subsequent combustible tobacco cigarette use” among youth and young adults.
Mike Seilback serves as the vice president of Advocacy and Communications for the American Lung Association Northeast. He said that the novelty of the devices, along with the appealing flavors have helped sell the idea of e-cigarettes to teens and young adults, most of whom have no idea they foster addiction to nicotine.
“The tobacco industry is continually going to look for replacement customers,” Seilback said. “We need to remain vigilant because we don’t know what the long-term effects will be on this generation of youth that’s starting these products and will face a hard time quitting them.”
To quit using any kind of tobacco, talk with your health care provider and reach out to the New York State Smokers’ Quitline at 1-866-NY-QUITS (1-866-697-8487) or nysmokefree.com.