Rep. Bacon: Safer than cigarettes?

Posted by: Hannah Carlock  | Monday, July 25, 2016 9:00 am

Since the 1960s, scientists and doctors have studied the health hazards of smoking and found it causes lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and coronary heart disease. Working as a respiratory therapist for 50 years, I have personally seen the damaging health effects on those who smoke. More people are becoming aware of the dangers of this habit, and are turning to patches, gums and pills to help wean themselves off of highly addictive nicotine. A fairly new alternative to smoking – electronic cigarettes, also called vaping – is growing in popularity. As a respiratory therapist, I do not like e-cigarettes because of their dangerous effects on the body. As a lawmaker, I have to strike a balance between what I know about the health hazards of e-cigarettes with protecting the individual rights of Hoosiers.

Marketers have tried to create the perception that vaping is safer than smoking, but is this really true? We really don’t know. Vaping, which is the use of an e-cigarette containing flavored liquid nicotine, is still a new concept. There is a lot of complexity to understanding the ingredients in e-liquids and the bodily tissues that may be at risk.

What we do know, according to the American Association of Poison Control, is that one teaspoon of liquid nicotine could be lethal to a child, and even smaller amounts can cause severe illness in anyone who ingests this liquid. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports phone calls to poison-control centers for liquid-nicotine poisoning skyrocketed from one per month in 2013 to 215 per month in 2014. As more adults and teens vape, more e-liquids are within reach of children, who are attracted to many e-cigarette flavors, like bubble gum or fruit punch.

There are roughly 7,700 flavors on the market for e-cigarettes, and not only are these bad for children to ingest, they are also unhealthy for adults. Whether it be a regular cigarette or an e-cigarette, the lung cannot digest flavor ingredients and preservatives. The stomach is constructed to do the digestion for the body, while the lung is designed to keep oxygen flowing in and carbon dioxide flowing out. E-cigarettes put more of a burden on the lung as the substance is not smoke, but liquid in the form of a vapor, not a true gas. Some e-liquid formulations contain flavoring agents known to cause severe damage to lung tissue. Prolonged inhalation exposure to the FDA-approved flavoring agent diacetyl, for example, causes an irreversible condition known as “popcorn lung.”

When e-cigarettes and e-liquids first hit the market, there weren’t any protocols as to who could purchase or use them. Ingredients were not disclosed on packaging, and anyone could manufacture the e-liquid without any regard to what was being put into the product.

It’s important consumers know what they are putting into their bodies and what are the health implications associated with this habit. This is why our state started addressing safety concerns.

In 2015, Indiana passed a law preventing minors from purchasing vaping products. Our state also requires e-liquid manufacturers to obtain permits from the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission before bottling or selling the products to retailers and distributors. There are limits placed on certain ingredients used in making e-liquids and sanitary production facilities are required. These consumer protections help keep Hoosiers healthy and safe.

As a respiratory therapist, someone telling me they are vaping instead of smoking, is like a dietician being told a person is now drinking diet soda instead of regular soda.  

If you have questions or comments, please contact me at h75@iga.in.gov or by phone at 317-232-9833.

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Rep. Ron Bacon (R-Chandler) represents portions of Warrick, Pike and Spencer counties.

A high-resolution photo of Bacon can be downloaded by clicking here.