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11:59 PM July 19th, 2013

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By: Rafael Castillo M.D., July 19th, 2013 11:59 PM

In this day and age, everything seems to be going digital; and that includes smoking. Many smokers are turning to electronic cigarettes, also called e-cigs, thinking they’re better off with these than regular cigarettes. Truth is, we don’t know what the effects of e-cigs are on the long term because there’s not much scientific data except the ones their manufacturers have come up with.

The Philippine Medical Association has called for a ban on the sale of e-cigs to the public until such time that a proper testing of their safety has been done. It has pointed out that the sale of e-cigs is unregulated, making them accessible to children and adolescents, who look at them as cool devices to be seen with. They’re promoted by some marketers as an “alternative lifestyle” and many are made to believe they are safer and relatively “healthier” than actual smoking.

“We do not know if it can be bad for us, and if they are saying that this is an alternative lifestyle the question is whether it is right for us to teach a new kind of vice to the public, moreover to our children and the youth,” warned Dr. Ramon Severino of the Philippine Pediatric Society, which is a PMA specialty organization.

Dr. Saturnino Javier, the immediate past president of the Philippine Heart Association, also detailed the uncertainty and risks of e-cig use in his column in Vital Signs, the newspaper for doctors and healthcare professionals. “One must also contend with the fact that nicotine vapors are likewise inhaled into the lungs,” he wrote. “One of the strongest arguments against the use of e-cigarettes is that they may undermine smoking prevention and cessation by reinforcing the habit of cigarette use in public and workplaces,” he added.

Local FDA stand

Sometime ago, our local Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning to the public about e-cigs, reiterating that they are not a recommended method of smoking-cessation therapy for smokers who want to quit. It also stressed the grave potential risk of abetting children into learning how to smoke.

E-cig manufacturers claim they’re not targeting children with their product, but the nicotine cartridges they’re selling come in flavors appealing to children. Which kid will not be attracted to chocolate, caramel, strawberry and even bubble gum flavor flavors? Knowing the adventurous nature of schoolchildren and the unregulated nature of e-cigs, we may have a catastrophic fad in the making if we allow e-cigs to be freely marketed.

The e-cigs work as a vaporizer since they vaporize a liquid solution into an aerosol mist, which simulates the real thing. It gives one the feeling of virtual smoking. Although they don’t contain tobacco, there’s a small device inside that heats up the liquid nicotine, which turns it into a vapor that smokers inhale and exhale.

Manufacturers of e-cigs claim that this nicotine vapor offers much lesser risk over traditional cigarette smoke. But no one knows for sure the possible side effects of inhaling nicotine vapor, as well as other health risks e-cigarettes may cause.

Vaporized solutions

We usually vaporize medications for lung problems like asthma and pneumonia because it has been shown that vaporized solutions can reach the lung tissues more quickly and effectively. If e-cigs have the same mechanism, then the vaporized nicotine should affect the lungs more adversely; and we won’t be surprised if later studies would show that e-cigs can cause all known complications of tobacco smoking in a shorter period of time.

Quality control in the manufacturing of e-cigs is also a big question mark, and there’s a possibility that some manufacturers may not adequately disclose everything they put in the cartridges for their e-cigs, or the actual nicotine level may be higher than what is listed on the cartridge label.

This may be the reason satisfied e-cig users swear to high heavens about how e-cigs have weaned them off from tobacco smoking. They likely don’t realize they’re getting a higher dose of nicotine. They’re out of the frying pan and put into the fire directly.

Johnny Depp might have looked cool though he fidgeted with his e-cig in the film “The Tourist,” and Katherine Heigl of “Grey’s Anatomy” might have sounded like a health expert as she explained how e-cigs work when she guested in the David Letterman show. But not even a ton of celebrity endorsements can ever cover up the unknown danger that lurks behind the use of e-cigs.

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