By Nick Kipley
Last week, California Sen. Mark Leno filed Senate Bill 140. If ratified into law, it would combine the sale and distribution of electronic cigarettes with the pre-existing “California’s Smoke Free Act.” According to an official press release from Sen. Leno’s office, this law “prohibits smoking at workplaces, schools, daycares, restaurants, bars, hospitals and on public transportation, protecting Californians from secondhand smoke and reducing the acceptability of smoking in general. E-cigarettes, however, do not fall under this existing law and are largely unregulated, despite a restriction on sales to minors.” The press release then states that e-cigarettes contain harmful chemicals, listing “an ingredient found in antifreeze” as evidence to support this. But are they even remotely as bad as cigarettes? Although many e-cigarette users interviewed by the Independent admitted that e-cigarettes don’t have any health “benefits,” the proponents of e-cigarettes interviewed for this article claim that “vaping” can be a successful tool to quit smoking traditional tobacco.
The VapeMastaz store is located at 1446 E. Walnut Street, in Pasadena, in what looks like a small aircraft hangar painted entirely black. Store manager Rick is helping a customer with the purchase of his first e-cigarette -early twenties, a PCC student-who goes by the name of Aaron M. When asked why he is making the purchase, he responds, “My friends and I smoke hookah socially but want to quit it due to the harmful effects of tobacco smoke. I’m trying to get my friends to buy one of these [e-cigarettes], too.” He adds: “Tobacco is unhealthy. I used to smoke cigarettes, but now I wanna quit.”
Another customer, Brandon Perez, says that vaping “really works” if you want to get off of nicotine. “I’m at 12mg of nicotine now,” he says, “but I eventually wanna step down.”
So the story goes for every person the Independent interviewed in VapeMastaz including its store manager: all used to smoke-some socially, some upwards of three packs a day. Since switching to e-cigarettes, they have been able to step down gradually from nicotine: 16mg to 12, 12 to 6mg, 6 to 3, and then finally none.
A report published last week by the New England Journal of Medicine states that e-cigs can create harmful amounts of formaldehyde when ignited at a high voltage for too long.
“That’s because they were using a cotton wick, and leaving the heating element on until it burnt the wicking material,” Rick says. “Nobody vapes like that.”
Rick claims that heating the wick for too long and taking a hit is “a lesson you learn not to do” because “it’s uncomfortable.” Rick added that not all of the wicking materials used in e-cigarettes are even combustible. To demonstrate this, he stretches a length of “Eko-Wool,” wicking material directly in the conical blue flame of his blowtorch. It turns red but doesn’t combust.
So why the uproar about e-cigarettes?
It could be the knee-jerk mechanism of anyone born post-1960 who, upon seeing someone exhale a cloud of secondhand smoke, immediately thinks about cancer. It could also be the fact that the rate at which millennials seem to be able to pick up technology can be a bit scary to some. Plus, the vapor smells like a cross between a patisserie and a cotton candy machine and come in flavors not limited to the breakfast cereal “Crunch Berries.”
“Experiencing secondhand smoke that smells like cupcakes from a [newfangled] electronic device” has the potential to startle anyone who didn’t come of age when electronic novelties were just beginning to be taken seriously: when He-Man and Transformers and Sega Genesis were as normal as being expected to go to college and “just say no” to drugs.
The primary ingredient in e-juice is Proplyne Glycol. Opponents of e-cigs point out that this chemical is commonly found in [bio-friendly] marine antifreeze and is used to de-ice jets at the airport. Proponents of e-cigs say, “It’s what they use in fog machines.”
The FDA considers Proplyne Glycol to be “generally recognized as safe” and is a common additive used to keep ice creams and frozen foods from freezing solid.
Opponents of e-cigs claim that trace amounts of acetaldehyde, diacetyl, anatabine, acroline and propanol have been found in e-cigarette smoke, some of which are toxic in high amounts, commonly found in chemotherapy drugs, window cleaner, and herbicides used in industrial canals; and known to cause a rare disease known as bronchiolitis obliterans.
Proponents of e-cigs emphasize that all of those chemicals are unavoidable in industrialized society. Acetaldehyde is toxic, but it is also what gives you a hangover after your body has processed alcohol. Anatabine is found in all tobacco products but is also used as an aid to quit smoking and us currently being studied as a potential anti-inflammatory for Alzheimer’s. Acroline is used as a window cleaner and as an herbicide but it is also produced when you heat up cooking oil to its smoke point, or roast coffee beans -in other words – it is commonly found at McDonalds and Starbucks. “Bronchiolitis Obliterans,” known as “Popcorn Worker’s Lung,” comes from inhaling Diacytl, a compound used in artificial butter and found in most mid-range California chardonnays.
The big question about e-cigarettes shouldn’t be, “What lengths should science go to in order to prove that e-cigarettes bad for you?” but rather, “What are the institutions funding these huge anti-e-cig studies?” Because, to quote Thomas Pynchon, “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.”
One thing is for certain, Big Tobacco isn’t making a cent of VapeMastaz.