Health Corner: Smoking vs. Vaping

BY LEAH TODD
For the UAS Whalesong

After six months of tobacco-free policy implementation at UAS, students and staff have noted an absence of smoke-filled air surrounding the entryways to buildings. They no longer smell smoke filtering in through windows and ventilation systems. Many students have reported experiencing easier breathing and less respiratory irritation. But some students want to know about e-cigarettes. Aren’t they the safer alternative?

So, while they may be the lesser of two evils, they are not risk-free. The nicotine content can adversely affect adolescent brain development and lead to long-term nicotine addiction, while nicotine is toxic to a developing fetus during pregnancy. As a relatively new product, the long-term effects of using e-cigarettes are not fully known, but they have already been found to contain carcinogens like heavy metals and acrolein, ultra-fine particulate, and propylene glycol or glycerin and flavorings not meant for inhalation. Furthermore, e-cigarettes are not regulated, and therefore have no accountability for controlling nicotine levels and disclosing ingredients on packaging.

Some people may rationalize these health risks if they think e-cigarettes can help people quit smoking conventional cigarettes. Unfortunately, there is no evidence to support that e-cigarettes contribute to successful tobacco cessation, and some research suggests they may be even more addictive. Uncontrolled and unregulated amounts of nicotine in e-cigarettes can further entrench smokers in their addiction or develop new addiction pathways. In the US, nearly 48% of adult e-cigarette users also use conventional cigarettes on the same day. Dual use of e-cigarettes and conventional cigarettes is a serious health concern, as smokers could be exposed to even higher amounts of nicotine.

The fate of the tobacco industry lies in the success of e-cigarettes, as many companies are developing both products. What is stopping the e-cigarette (read: tobacco) industry from keeping people addicted to their product?

This industry now employs marketing strategies identical to those seen in conventional cigarette ads: themes of sex and rebellion, and celebrity endorsements. They market to youth while blatantly denying it, and spread unsubstantiated health claims about their products like better sleep, weight loss, and more energy (sound familiar?). Now, more than 70% of high school students in the US are exposed to e-cigarette advertisements, and more than one third of Alaskan high school students have tried an electronic vapor product—among both smokers and non-smokers. These are not results of a cessation product marketing strategy.

In honor of Kick Butts Day on March 16th, a national day of youth activism against the tobacco industry’s deceitful marketing strategies, commit yourself to a future free of tobacco and e-cigarettes. The steep decline in smoking rates in the US is one of the greatest public health contributions in our country’s history, and we cannot let e-cigarette trends and the tobacco industry unhinge this progress. Stand up and stand out above the marketing and industry motives positioned against your health, independence, and future wellbeing.

You can quit tobacco (and e-cigarettes) today by calling Alaska’s Tobacco Quit Line at 1-800-QUIT-NOW for free and confidential telephone counseling, medications, and informational materials. You can also text QUIT to 47848 for mobile support, or try the app called This is Quitting (http://www.thisisquitting.com), where you share and receive support from other quitters online. You are four times more likely to succeed in quitting if you use medications and counseling together compared to quitting on your own. Find what works for you and get the support you need.

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