Local Health Leaders Want Public Bans On E-Cigs

Jan 4, 2017

The city of Bloomington has banned the use of e-cigarettes in public buildings and two organizations want other governments to do the same. E-cigarettes have been around for almost a decade, but in the past few years their popularity has soared, making them the-most used tobacco product among middle-school and high-school aged young people.

As their use has grown, the debate around their health effects has ignited but the Illinois Heart and Lung Foundation and the McLean County Health Department warn they are a threat to personal and public health.  Doctor John Burr with Illinois Heart and Lung in Bloomington says researchers don't know enough about the long-term effects of vaping. "There is no safety data that comes with e-cigarettes that tell you how much formaldehyde is going into your lungs when you inhale it so there's the immediate concern of carcinogenesis," he said.

Flavor Additives Are Dangerous

Burr also points out certain flavorings added to liquid nicotine are dangerous. He points to diacetyl which is a buttery-flavor additive that led to debilitating lung disease among factory workers who made microwave popcorn in Missouri.  It has not been banned as a food additive but it can be dangerous when inhaled.  "Several of them went on to have chronic lung disease that made it very difficult to breathe."  A 2015 study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found 75 percent of flavored e-cigarettes and liquid refills contained chemicals linked to severe respiratory disease.  

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and the FDA shows a rapid rise in use of electronic cigarettes by young people. More than 2.3 million high school students and 620,000 middle school students currently use e-cigarettes.
Credit Courtesy of McLean County Department of Health

Burr says there is also a definite attempt to market to teens with flavor names that make vaping them seem   cool.  "One of the most interesting flavors that was mentioned in the article [in a medical journal] was Alien Blood  but there are plenty of others that are more natural or sound appealing such as fruit flavors like pineapple." 

Better Than Smoking?

Fans of e-cigarettes often say they're better than smoking traditional cigarettes.  Burr says there is not enough research to prove that.  He adds, "Some e-cigarettes produce a lot of it [formaldehyde] and some produce very little but there's no safety data that comes with the e-cigarette to tell you how much will be inhaled when you breathe it in."

When e-cigarettes first came on the scene, the pulmonologist wasn't sure what to tell his patients. Now, he advises against vaping.  Burr says battery-operated electronic cigarettes are fueled by addictive liquid nicotine so they don't help people stop smoking. He has patients who now do both.  And, he says they can create a new addiction. "It is also a gateway for kids to get hooked on cigarettes that weren't prior smokers before they started e-cigarettes. In other words, they started up e-cigarettes as the primary behavior and then went on to become smokers," according to research Burr has reviewed.

Most local campuses including Heartland Community College, Illinois State and Illinois Wesleyan Universities ban electronic cigarettes. Bloomington's ban on vaping extends to city-owned buildings but not public outdoor spaces. Illinois law does not specifically prohibit e-cigarettes so in other public places, it is allowed.  The FDA earlier this year banned sales to anyone under 18 but warnings about potential harmful effects won't be required on packaging until August of 2019.