E-Cigarettes Catch On—& Catch Some Flak

Kendra Baker Photo Greg likes the idea that he can have a banana-nut muffin-flavored cigarette with his morning coffee.

Connecticut’s attorney general senses a risk in that kind of flavor.

Greg, a 27-year-old New Haven restaurant manager (who declined to give his last name), smokes the newest kind of cigarettes—electronic cigarettes. He started smoking e-cigarettes to wean off a six-year cigarette-smoking habit.

The fast-growing market offers smokers like him flavors ranging from creamy milk chocolate, farm fresh cherry and juicy peach flavors, with a youth market in mind.

That has led Attorney General George Jepsen to join 39 other state attorneys general in urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate electronic cigarettes as “tobacco products” under the Tobacco Control Act and prohibit their sale to minors.

“We recognized that there may be some positive benefits in e-cigarettes in weaning established adult smokers off actual tobacco, but the industry, which is completely unregulated, is clearly targeting children with candy, bubblegum, chocolate flavored e-cigarettes,” Jepsen said in an interview. “In doing so, they’re looking to create a new generation of nicotine addicts.”

“I own a bunch of them. I used to always have a morning cigarette, so now I always have a flavor that goes well with my morning coffee, like cinnamon roll and banana-nut muffin,” said Greg, the restaurant manager. He said he is also a fan of the fruity e-cigarette flavors that Jepsen said are “designed specifically to appeal to kids.”

Jim Raporte, president of the e-cigarette company blu eCigs, issued a statement in response to the attorney generals’ regulation proposal. “We firmly believe that future e-cigarette regulations should ensure sales and marketing to youth is prohibited. That said, we believe these responsible marketing parameters can be achieved without suppressing adult access.”

Abigail Derbyshire (pictured at the top of the story), a 23-year-old Southern Connecticut State University student and waitress at C.O. Jones, said she is surprised e-cigarettes aren’t already regulated.

Derbyshire used to be an occasional cigarette smoker. She stopped because she didn’t really enjoy the taste.

“I’ve never smoked an e-cigarette, but I would try one. The flavors might be something I’d like,” said Derbyshire. She said the reason she would try e-cigarettes is probably the reason why kids would want to as well: “Of course the flavors would be appealing to kids, but they shouldn’t be allowed to legally buy them until they’re 18. If kids can buy e-cigarettes, then they could become addicted to nicotine and they might eventually start smoking regular cigarettes.”

Derbyshire said e-cigarettes should be regulated simply because “kids just shouldn’t be able to buy something with nicotine in it.”

E-cigarettes use a battery to heat liquid, turning it into a vapor. The liquid, or “e-juice,” comes in disposable cartridges containing chemicals, vegetable glycerine, flavors and varying amounts of nicotine. The consumer inhales the vapor instead of smoke.

Lou Salatto owns Connecticut Vapors, located at 672 Foxon Rd. over the town line in East Haven, where he sells e-cigarettes, juices and accessories. He said he doesn’t sell to minors so he does not expect the proposed regulation to affect his business.

Salatto said his customers range in age from 20 to 60 years old, and a lot of them enjoy the free flavor samples offered at the store.

“People who are used to smoking Marlboros will usually start off using e-cigarettes that have a taste of Marlboro, but then they start to try different flavors,” explained Salatto, who sells e-cigarette that contain varying levels of nicotine, ranging from zero to 24 milligrams—an aspect of e-cigarettes that Greg likes.

“I don’t plan on continually smoking electronic cigarettes, so it’s great that with the juice you put into the electronic cigarette, you can increase and decrease the milligrams of nicotine,” said Greg. “When I started using e-cigarettes back in February, I started at 18 milligrams, went down to 12, went down to six, and then I even bought some 0 percent nicotine juice.”

Jepsen said he has seen ads that persuade adult smokers that e-cigarettes are a better option, but he has also seen ads “designed to make this productappealing to young people.” He said the FDA should treat e-cigarettes like regular tobacco products by prohibiting the advertisement of flavors that are “clearly designed to attract young people” and “avoid marketing and advertising in venues that are likely to have a lot of young people at them, like amusement parks.”

Greg argued that ads do not target minors.

“I think it’s kind of like a red herring, because that’s like saying the liquor companies have fruity drinks so they’re targeting children,” he said of the attorney general’s position. “I haven’t seen much advertising out there, so I don’t think they’re really targeting minors. I mean, kids smoke anyway—it just happens.”

Some answers about the emerging industry might come from Yale.

Suchitra Krishnan-Sarin, associate professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, has worked in the area of adolescent tobacco use for 12 years and is a principal investigators and co-director of the Yale‘s Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science (TCORS).

“There’s been a recent explosion in the market for electronic cigarettes, so we have been primarily studying use patterns to date,” said Krishnan-Sarin, who has been involved in Yale research since 1995. “We have been evaluating use in student smokers, and recently we completed some qualitative studies with these groups—middle school, high school and college-age smokers—trying to get at why they use e-cigarettes, why they’re attracted to e-cigarettes, where they see marketing for e-cigarettes, why exactly do they use and what we can do to delve up some information to better inform them about e-cigarettes and the harms of e-cigarettes.”

Yale’s TCORS is one of 14 institution tobacco research centers sponsored by the FDA and the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Disease and Prevention that consists of faculty members with multiple levels of expertise who come together to study and research tobacco use and addiction and help with FDA regulatory goals.

Krishnan-Sarin (pictured) said one of Yale TCORS’ goals is to try to understand how important the flavors are in the initiation and maintenance of e-cigarette use.

“Electronic cigarettes come in multitudes of flavors and the the advertising that goes along with it can be very attractive to minors, and that is a significant concern the FDA has,” said Krishnan-Sarin. She explained that the FDA had similar concerns about a product that has since been taken off the market and is no longer allowed to be sold: bidis. “They used to sell bidis in all kinds of flavors and the kids loved them, so those were banned.”

Greg said although he’s not really up-to-date with the attorney general’s recent proposal for e-cigarette regulation, he does know that not much is known about the health effects of e-cigarettes. He has developed his own hypothesis.

“I don’t think electronic cigarettes are as addictive as regular cigarettes. I mean, they got to be healthier than regular cigarettes—there are only four ingredients in the juice: propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, nicotine, and flavoring,” said Greg. “I know there have been studies on what happens when the propylene glycol is vaporized, but I don’t know about any other studies.”

Krishnan-Sarin said her research team has ongoing work that is starting to delve into why people e-cigarettes and what can be done about it.

“We have been conducting these studies over the past two years and we’re just getting a handle on the data,” explained Krishnan-Sarin. “We hope to be able to write up a report very soon.”

Attorney General Jepsen said he expects the FDA to accept his and the other attorney generals’ request to regulate e-cigarettes.

“Call me an optimist, but there’s simply no basis to think that they [e-cigarettes] are not potentially devastatingly harmful to kids [because they can] become addicted to nicotine and it makes it very likely that they’ll have an addiction for the rest of their life,” said Jepsen. “The nicotine in e-cigarettes is derived from tobacco—there’s no reason to treat it any differently.”

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posted by: robn on October 4, 2013  12:41pm

Was Atty Gen Jepson interviewed at a coffee shop?

Badapbump!(symbol crash!)

posted by: cunningham on October 4, 2013  2:25pm

I quit cigarettes cold turkey about two months ago after nine or so years of smoking (for whatever it’s worth, I started with Camel regulars, as a minor). E-cigarettes never had much appeal for me, as a smoker or as someone trying to quit, but I understand the addictive potential of nicotine, and how harmful that addiction can be. Anything that keeps anyone from getting hooked is a good thing, as far as I’m concerned. Obviously it’s easier for that to happen to a minor than a grown, rational adult.

That said, I do agree with Greg in that the focus by the AG on flavors is sort of a convenient red herring. Are children attracted to flavors? Probably, but it’s a moot point if the prohibition on sales to minors is properly implemented and enforced. It’s also possible that minors of a certain age might be discouraged from using flavored or fruity nicotine products, since smoking (or vaping, as the case may be) is a way to seem more grown-up in the first place. Plus, the assertion flavors are only offered as a way to entice minors is somewhat flawed in that it ignores the possibility that adults also enjoy flavors.

posted by: LadyERT on October 7, 2013  6:10am

While that all sounds good, if they make it difficult for them to get the e-cig they will continue to purchase loose cigarettes from the stores and those are the ones more harmful to our health..