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Safety of Electronic Cigarettes Still Under Debate

PHOTO: Electronic cigarettes often are viewed as a safer alternative to tobacco, and their popularity seems to be on the rise, but there are lingering questions about their safety  Photo credit: freestockphotos.com
PHOTO: Electronic cigarettes often are viewed as a safer alternative to tobacco, and their popularity seems to be on the rise, but there are lingering questions about their safety Photo credit: freestockphotos.com
March 4, 2014

LANSING, Mich. - Electronic cigarettes often are advertised as a safer alternative to tobacco cigarettes, but there are a lot of questions about those claims. Tobacco cigarettes contain thousands of chemicals, dozens of which are carcinogenic. And according to Thomas Glynn, director of cancer science and trends at the American Cancer Society, while e-cigarettes are seen as considerably less harmful than the real thing, there's just not enough research.

"They were really only invented 10 years ago and made their way to the U.S. about seven years ago, and that doesn't enable us to look at what the effects 10, 12, 15 years out, are," he cautioned.

The vapor emitted by an e-cigarette is made from propylene glycol, a chemical approved for use in food, but Glynn said no one knows the effects of inhaling it over the long term. The FDA has proposed a rule that would allow the agency to regulate e-cigarettes as it does tobacco products.

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

A CDC survey found that from 2011 to 2012, e-cigarettes doubled in popularity among middle-school and high-school pupils.

Glynn noted that some e-cigarettes are candy- and fruit-flavored, which is attractive to the younger crowd.

"Many of the companies are responsible. They have no flavors, or the only flavor they have is menthol," he said. "Others have flavors like bubble gum. So that's a definite concern: we do not want kids enticed into using these."

Glynn said the use of e-cigarettes could lead youngsters to switch to tobacco cigarettes.

Bills have been introduced in the Michigan House and Senate that would ban minors from purchasing or using electronic cigarettes.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MI