Thursday, September 1, 2016

E-cigarettes: They’re not healthy, but they’re a start

Sometimes I come across as flippant when I talk to family members or coworkers about their cigarette smoking. It’s not that I have a holier-than-though bent; it’s just that I don’t want the horrible long-term effects of smoking to hurt them or their children and grandchildren.

It comes from the heart. It comes from experience. Both of my grandfathers passed away prematurely – and painfully – from a lifetime of smoking. One suffered congestive heart failure while the other succumbed to lung cancer. It’s never pretty to have the men who, as you grew up, were the images of masculinity and tough love waste away before your eyes. What I witnessed still bothers me to this day.  

That’s a reason why I’m so accommodating to the use of e-cigarettes in the workplace. I’ve found them to be an effective sort of gateway drug to better health (that was their original intent) and I’ve had many workers quit the “real stuff” because of their use. To encourage my team to break the shackles of addiction associated with tobacco cigarettes, I allow them to smoke e-cigs in the plant as long as those they are closely working with are OK with it.

That wouldn’t fly in many municipalities. Last year, neighboring Erie County put a ban on the use of cigarettes in all places where smoking was already banned. If other upstate counties don’t follow suit (so far only New York City and 8 counties have bans in place), there’s a good chance the state legislature will force their hand – Governor Cuomo has expressed his support for such a measure which was passed by the Assembly but not the Senate.

Proponents of the ban cite health hazards inherent to e-cigarettes, a belief promulgated by another Cuomo no less – the Governor’s sister Margaret Cuomo, a celebrity doctor. She and others have publically claimed that e-cigarettes can cause lung and liver cancer and are as equally harmful as tobacco cigarettes due to the chemicals present in the vapors. A study that hit the press last week claims that e-cigarette use stiffens the aortic artery.

Because of those claims and more studies underway (and not to mention the tax revenue windfall the feds could reap), the federal government is in an ongoing process of reclassifying e-cigarettes as tobacco products, which will make current versions of the devices and their compounds illegal to sell after August of 2018 without considerable modification (existing devices will be grandfathered into use). Because of the new standards, prices on e-cig products will rise significantly – so much so that many of their users will be driven back to honest-to-goodness tobacco cigarettes.

We as a caring society don’t need that to happen. E-cigarettes provide an alternative, even an out, for addicts.

I’ll admit, e-cigarettes aren’t perfect. Any time you purposely ingest or breathe strange chemicals into your body, you put your health at risk. But, are e-cigs any less healthy than all the processed foods that line the store shelves? They contain the same noxious compounds, like glycol, that you’d find in a bottle of salad dressing. 

It’s disingenuous, even risky to public health, to compare e-cigarettes to tobacco cigarettes. Their differences are like night and day. E-cigs don’t possess the cancer-inspiring tar and the cornucopia of death that is the 7,000 chemicals present in cigarette smoke.

Electronic puffers do possess nicotine (which is why people smoke them) which has proven to be detrimental to the development of teen brains (which is why a ban on e-cigarette sales to teenagers is welcome). But, that nicotine can be metered and it offers people the tool they need to cut back on its need so far that they will no longer have to puff on a cigarette – electronic, tobacco or otherwise.

Studies in England have shown a 25 percent success rate for those looking to quit tobacco smoking through the use of e-cigarettes, rivaling nicotine patches and gum, cold turkey, and hypnotherapy. The results have been so good that the UK encourages smokers to use the contraptions. 

While e-cigarettes might not be the healthiest thing in the world, they are far superior to the alternative and they can help put users on the path to better and cleaner health. Let’s not take away or further legislate this critical tool for those who want to do better for themselves or their families. How can they quit – and why would they want to – if the user of these devices is made to stand outside and far away like and with the outcast tobacco smokers they don’t want to be?      

From the 05 September 2016 Greater Niagara Newspapers  

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