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A Cigarette By Any Other Name: E-Cig Concern in Commonwealth

PHOTO: Electronic cigarettes, hookah pens, e-hookahs and vape pipes are growing in popularity in Massachusetts, but experts say there isnít enough science about how safe they are. Credit: Michael Dorausch, Wikimedia Commons.
PHOTO: Electronic cigarettes, hookah pens, e-hookahs and vape pipes are growing in popularity in Massachusetts, but experts say there isnít enough science about how safe they are. Credit: Michael Dorausch, Wikimedia Commons.
March 10, 2014

BOSTON - Electronic cigarettes - also known as e-hookahs, hookah pens and vape pipes - are growing in popularity in Massachusetts. Celebrities in advertisements tout them as a safer alternative to smoking tobacco, but experts say there isn't enough science to back up those claims.

It's estimated that there are more than 250 different e-cigarette brands for sale in the U.S. today, and since they are unregulated, according to Casey Harvell with the American Lung Association of Massachusetts, manufacturers are not being held accountable for potential health risks.

"Right now, there's no way of knowing what's in these e-cigarettes," she warned. "They're not controlled by the FDA, something we are encouraging, so right now there's no way to say that it is a safe product to use."

The Food and Drug Administration has proposed a rule that would allow the agency to regulate e-cigarettes as it does tobacco products.

A tobacco cigarette contains thousands of chemicals, dozens of which are carcinogenic. While e-cigarettes may be considered less harmful, Harvell said, there is little research about the effects of the chemicals in them.

"While for the most part they're saying that it's nicotine and glycerin and usually the flavoring, there's no way to know for sure."

Harvell is backing a bill currently before the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Health Care Finance.

That measure aims "to ban the sale to minors under the age of 18," she said. "It would also change the definition of tobacco in the state to tobacco-derived products so e-cigarettes would be included in our smoke-free workplace law."

According to Consumer Reports, national sales of e-cigarettes hit $1.5 billion worth in 2013, nearly triple the previous year.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - MA