5 questions you never thought to ask about electronic cigarettes

Knowing the differences between tobacco and electronic cigarettes

Tessa Arnold, Staff Reporter

You see a cloud of smoke billowing from the bar, but you thought this bar was smoke-free. And then it hits you: the smell of blueberry bubblegum. Someone is puffing on an e-cig.

Though e-cigarettes have been available in the U.S. for almost a decade, already 10.8 million Americans use them, 15 percent of whom never used cigarettes before, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The researchers note that about 2.8 million Americans between the ages of 18 to 24 use e-cigarettes.

Experts say that the popularity comes from assumptions that e-cigarettes can be used anywhere and from misconceptions about the health risks compared to traditional tobacco products.

Electronic cigarettes have been portrayed in popular culture as a “healthy alternative” to cigarettes, resulting in a steady increase in sales and relaxed regulations,  according to experts from Baylor University Medical Center.

Rosalind Williams, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner and a clinical assistant professor in the School of Nursing, said the popularity comes from constant advertising and prevalence on social media. She also said interesting flavors and the shape of e-cigs make them more appealing to young people.

“E-cigarettes come in forms such as flash drives, with a variety of flavors such as cool cucumber, fruit medley, mango and mint, making it appealing to young adults,” Williams said. “Adolescents also feel that e-cigarettes are safer and less stigmatized to tobacco products.”

With so many assumptions and misconceptions about vaping and juuling, The Horizon helps answer five common questions about e-cigs.

  1. Is there such a thing as “second-hand smoke” with e-cigarette vapor?

Electronic cigarettes are not as toxic as tobacco cigarettes according to the CDC because they don’t contain tobacco.  However, the CDC has research that shows electronic cigarettes are not healthier for smokers, they are just the lesser of the two evils.

“While there is a lack of evidence that second-hand smoke can come from e-cigarettes, it can be harmful to users, the smoke can be toxic. Children and adults have been poisoned by swallowing, breathing or absorbing e-cigarette liquid through their skin or eyes,” Williams said.

Electronic cigarettes may not have the image of being as harmful as tobacco cigarettes, but they can still do some damage without users even knowing.

According to the CDC, e-cigarettes can be just as harmful as cigarettes due to the aerosol that users breathe from the device that can contain harmful substances including nicotine, ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs, flavoring such as dactyl (a chemical linked to a serious lung disease), volatile organic compounds and heavy metals such as nickel, tin and lead.

  1. What goes inside an e-cigarette?

Electronic cigarettes are a little bit more complicated than just lighting a match and getting a nicotine buzz. Electronic cigarettes vary in many ways. All of them are battery powered devices, but the level of nicotine in them can vary as well as flavorings and chemicals they use.

As of 2014 there are among 460 electronic cigarette brands currently on the market, regardless of their appearance, they all operate in a similar manner.

Electronic cigarettes all contain four main pieces: a cartridge, which is what contains the liquid that creates the huge smoke clouds and contains the flavorings and chemicals. They also include a mouth piece, a battery and a heating element.

The liquid that goes into the cartridge, known as e-liquid or e-juice, is what may or may not contain nicotine.

Corey Castille, a graduate of IU Southeast, has been smoking his electronic cigarette for about four months now because he was influenced by second-hand smoke and would also use his sister’s electronic cigarette.

“I started on three percent nicotine and now I’m down to zero percent. I smoke it a lot less now that I have moved to no nicotine at all,” Castille said.

The e-liquid is heated up in the cartridge and converted into an aerosol, which is what is inhaled. People smoke because of the nicotine, but nicotine is not what causes cancer and health issues – it is the other chemicals that are released that are the cause of concern, according to the CDC.

  1. Overall, is it cheaper to smoke electronic cigarettes compared to tobacco cigarettes?

The cost of smoking either tobacco cigarettes or electronic cigarettes all depends on how often the smoker prefers to smoke.

Troy Leblanc is an owner of Derb-e cigs in the southern Indiana area and currently owns nine stores. He has been using electronic cigarettes for six years and prior to that he smoked tobacco cigarettes for 11 years.

An average smoker spends roughly $35 per week on cigarettes. The average vaper spends about $25,” Leblanc said.

Smoking either type of cigarette is not a cheap habit, but electronic cigarettes are the cheaper option.

“Vaping costs me about $60 a month max. The limit is defined by the amount of fluid I buy along with the amount of new coils I would need to buy together,” Castille said.

  1. Does smoking e-cigarettes help tobacco smokers quit?

While there are some success stories of heavy smokers being able to lessen the amount of tobacco and nicotine they smoke a day by using e-cigarettes, there is no evidence proving e-cigarettes are a helpful way to quit completely.

Electronic cigarettes are not approved by the FDA as an aid to quit smoking. When it comes to trying to quit smoking, there are more effective ways to do it such as patches or nicotine gum.

While electronic cigarettes may be less harmful than tobacco cigarettes, they are not harmless.

Joann Konnerman, a senior studying strategic communications at IU Southeast, has owned many juuls over the past years. Konnerman never smoked tobacco cigarettes regularly before she started juuling, but now she has a want for her electronic cigarette regularly.

“It started out as a boredom breaker and then it became an addictive habit,” Konnerman said.

Konnerman estimates she uses her juul about 100 times a day. Before she picked up the habit of juuling, she would smoke tobacco cigarettes only a few times a year at social gatherings.

“It’s something to have in my hands all the time, similar to someone biting their nails out of habit. I just hit my juul because it’s in my hand all the time,” Konnerman said.

  1. Can you use your electronic cigarette in places where you can’t smoke cigarettes?

Many public places are tobacco-free or at least have restriction on tobacco products.

IU Southeast is a tobacco-free campus, and that policy applies to electronic cigarettes as well.

They are considered to be a tobacco-type product and would be covered under the tobacco-free campus policy already in place” said Stephen Miller, Chief of Police at IU Southeast.

Every state has different laws on the ban of smoking electronic cigarettes in public places. California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah, Vermont and New York have laws that ban electronic cigarettes, very similar to the nationwide ban on tobacco cigarettes being used in public places.

According to Public Health Law Center, Indiana defines an electronic cigarette in the same category as tobacco cigarettes.

Kentucky states on the Public Health Law Center website that there are specific restrictions on smoking electronic cigarettes in public.

The use of electronic cigarettes and other vaping devices is prohibited on any property owned or operated by the Executive branch of the government. This can include health care facilities, veterans’ facilities, fairgrounds, highway rest areas and state parks.

If you are questioning the health risks or trying to quit smoking electronic or tobacco cigarettes, IU campuses provide the resources you need. The campus will provide a free Quit Smartclinics to any staff, faculty or students. It is a four week program that will help lead you in the direction to quitting and remaining smoke-free. If you wish to attend a Quit Smartclinic you can email hr@ius.edu or call (812)-941-2356 for more information.