Long-term effects of e-cigarettes debated among users, doctors

Long-term effects of e-cigarettes debated among users, doctors »Play Video
FILE - Daryl Cura demonstrates an e-cigarette at Vape store in Chicago, Wednesday, April 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Electronic cigarettes have undoubtedly grown in popularity over the last few years. Many health officials are warning that there may be lifelong consequences, especially for young users.

Supporters of electronic cigarettes claim the devices can be beneficial by allowing users of traditional cigarettes to get nicotine without exposure to tar and the other carcinogens found in cigarette smoke.

Opponents counter that the devices inevitably lead to more nicotine addictions, and that the widespread use of e-cigarettes, especially by minors, may actually create a reverse effect and lead nicotine-addicted teens to pick up traditional cigarettes, instead.

Bakersfield resident Cale Barajas has used e-cigarettes daily for about a year. He calls himself a success story because he's dropped traditional cigarettes and picked up "vaping," instead.
    
"I like the taste. I like the fact that I can do it without smelling," said Barajas.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that deliver nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals through an inhaled vapor. 

Barajas feels e-cigarettes are a healthy alternative to his old habit.

"I still get the nicotine, but I also, I can go up a flight of stairs without losing my breath," he said.

In the last few years, poison centers across the country have reported a sharp increase in nicotine poisoning, particularly of small children. Even small amounts of nicotine can cause nausea and vomiting if swallowed by an adult, and can be potentially deadly for a small child.

The assistant director of California’s poison control centers, Dr. Cyrus Rangan, said nicotine is not only poisonous but addictive.

“Nicotine is actually, technically speaking, it's a pesticide," the doctor said. "We want to makes sure that the public doesn't have a perception that this is quote-unquote 'a safe cigarette' until we have the data to prove it."

For the first time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has rolled out new regulations that include the ban of selling to minors and a warning label that nicotine is addictive.

A report released last fall by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed the number of middle school and high school students who tried e-cigarettes doubled to nearly two million kids in 2012.

Critics of vaping fear teens and children are the targeted users because of the e-juice's bright colors and sweet flavors.

"Look at the different vodkas, how many flavors of vodka do they offer now? Is that really getting kids to go out and drink vodka? I don't believe it is," said Ted Sisco, owner of Ted’s Vape Hut, an e-cigarette shop in Bakersfield.

Sisco said he looks forward to the FDA's new rules and medical studies.

“I believe that these studies are just going to validate what we already know, that it is a much healthier alternative and it's one of the most effective tools to get people off of smoking cigarettes," he said.

Kaiser Permanente Dr. Jim Sproul said although e-cigarette use has increased among young adults, its overall impact on public health is unknown.

“For a person that wants to quit smoking, I don't think we're ready to say that e-cigarettes are a good option for that,” he said.

Sprowl said the fact that vaping is popular among young people takes the issue past the reported accidental nicotine poisonings in children to early nicotine addictions in teens and young adults.

"We don't know the long term effects of nicotine by itself. Nicotine is very addictive, and it's a hard habit to break. There are no known health benefits to vaping," Sprowl said. "Addiction may last lifelong."

While the debate over the health effects of vaping has continued, sales of the devices have skyrocketed, reaching more than $1.5 billion in sales in 2012.

Barajas said he'll continue to vape, and that he looks forward to what the FDA finds. He even said he'd be willing to participate in the administration's studies.

"My lung function is like a lot stronger, I have more stamina with everything I do. Vaping's changed my life," he said.