E-cigarettes questions unanswered
Jeff Mann has found a way to get his nicotine fix with no ash, no flame, no odor and no bad breath.
And he can do it legally inside businesses that are smoke free.
Mann, 40, smokes an electronic cigarette. It's a battery-powered device that looks like a cigarette and emits cigarette-like smoke, but delivers nicotine in vapor form.
“You can get a nicotine level that you're used to getting from a regular cigarette,” Mann said.
E-cigarettes have been available in the United States since 2006 and have grown in popularity in Sioux Falls since the smoking ban went into effect Nov. 10. They’re sold in bars, casinos and various retail shops. At least one local distributor has seen a 50 percent increase in sales.
But the federal Food and Drug Administration has not approved e-cigarettes. That raises red flags for some health professionals and has them questioning what risks might be associated with e-cigarettes.
Smoker says device helped him cut back
The FDA lost a court case last year after trying to treat e-cigarettes as drug-delivery devices instead of tobacco products because e-cigarettes heat nicotine extracted from tobacco.
But Mann, who owns Vishnu Bunny Tattoo and Piercing, views e-cigarettes as a healthier alternative to the traditional cigarettes he has smoked for 25 years. He said it has helped him cut down on smoking.
Prices range from less than $10 for disposable e-cigarettes to $100 for a kit with a lifetime warranty.
Critics say flavors can entice children
Users can buy cartridges with varying levels of nicotine, all the way down to a cartridge containing no nicotine. They also come in flavors such as chocolate and vanilla, which critics say can tempt children.
Because e-cigarettes are not FDA-approved, Dr. Jeffry Meyer of Sanford Health hesitates to tell patients it’s OK to use them.
“We rely on the FDA to research and give good advice,” Meyer said. “We believe they have good reason for coming out against something … there may be some potential harm or abuse potential.”
Deb Murray, a respiratory therapist at Avera Heart Hospital, heard about e-cigarettes a year ago but said patient interest peaked in November.
Murray is concerned about the mystery of what is in e-cigarettes.
E-cigarettes are advertised as a healthy alternative, and companies say they lack the carcinogens found in tobacco products.
“(People are) thinking it is a healthy alternative, but they need to be aware of the unknown nicotine amount, the unknown health effects and that they are not FDA approved,” Murray said. “There may be chemical contents that might affect their health. There are so many unknowns.”
The American Cancer Society also does not endorse or suggest people use e-cigarettes, said Jennifer Stalley, director of government relations for the American Cancer Society in South Dakota.
Sellers find raidly rising market
Kristi Englund, 45, has not smoked a traditional cigarette in three months, and she credits e-cigarettes. After smoking for 30 years, Englund said she’s tried other methods for quitting, but nothing worked.
“This is great. It stops that craving for inhaling, which is my big thing,” she said. “The inhaling is a stress reliever.”
Mike Wehrkamp, owner of M & M Distributing, has seen a 50 percent increase in sales of Fifty-One electronic cigarettes since the smoking ban went into effect Nov. 10. He distributes e-cigarettes to about 12 Sioux Falls retailers, and 25 retailers statewide.
He started distributing Fifty-One electronic cigarettes in May 2009.
“I thought it was a great opportunity,” Wehrkamp said. “When I first got into them, I figured, if this ain’t the wave of the future …”
Gregor&'s Eastside Liquor has seen a 30 percent increase in Fifty-One electronic cigarette sales the smoking ban, owner Greg Stahl said.
A Fifty-One electronic cigarette kit sells for $100, and comes with two lifetime warrantied batteries, a cell phone-like wall charger and two cartridges, which are screwed onto the batteries.
The refill packs cost $20, and come with five cartridges, which Wehrkamp said is equivalent to a $50 carton of cigarettes.
“These are like your cell phone. You recharge them, they go forever,” Wehrkamp said.
Still, for longtime smoker Kay Johnson, 49, an e-cigarette is not the same as a traditional cigarette.
“The e-cigarette doesn't give me the same effect. It helps abate the sensation, but it’s not the same,” she said. “It helps to quench your thirst, but that’s it, and not for long.”
Electronic Cigarettes Sold As Safe (Feb 3, 2011)
A new innovative device, called e-cigarettes have become an alternate drug to regular cigarettes. Advertised as cigarettes that are not harmful like tobacco ones, these e-cigarettes do not have the addictive chemicals regular cigarettes do. This has caused the e-cigarette companies to advertise them as a way to stop smoking....
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