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E-cigarettes: What are they really offering?

When you “vape” (e-cig lingo for puffing), a heating element boils the e-juice until vapor is produced. eBACCO targets people who want to get their smoking habits under control. (Forum News Service)1 / 2
eBACCO, located at 410 30th Avenue East in Alexandria, targets people who want to get their smoking habits under control. (Annie Harman/Echo Press)2 / 2

Minnesota winters hit everyone a little hard, but the smoking population may be some of the people who get hit the hardest. With no-smoking bans in nearly every establishment, smokers have to get their nicotine fix by toughing it out in the blustery, bitter weather.

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But then, as if asked for in a prayer, e-cigarettes blessed many between their index and middle fingers, resting easily between lips, and keeping smokers toasty warm.

On 2013’s Black Friday, eBACCO opened in Alexandria. Located on 30th Avenue and originating in Minnetonka, eBACCO is the first store in the city to sell only e-cigarette products, including e-cigars and e-pipes.

Though e-cigarettes were invented in the 1960s, the past decade is when they really started to rise to fame. With more than 250 brands to pick from, the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association estimates that about 4 million Americans use e-cigs.

What exactly is an e-cigarette? They’re battery operated nicotine inhalers made up of three simple components; a rechargeable lithium battery, a cartridge known as a cartomizer and an LED.

The cartomizer contains an e-liquid, or “e-juice,” that has the chemical propylene glycol along with nicotine, flavoring and other additives. The LED simply lights on the end to imitate a regular tobacco cigarette burning.

When you “vape” (e-cig lingo for puffing), a heating element boils the e-juice until vapor is produced. The same amount of vapor will be produced no matter how long or hard you vape. That is, until the battery is dead or the e-liquid is out.

A starter kit for e-cigarettes can cost anywhere between $30 and $100. A year’s worth of replacement cartomizers cost around $600. People who smoke a pack a day spend more than $1,000 in one year on cigarettes alone.

While many people turn to e-cigarettes to replace their tobacco ones, many people use them as a way to quit smoking altogether. By advertising e-cigs as a healthier alternative and a way to quit smoking, eBACCO’s main goal is to help clients gain control of their smoking habits.

Because the product is still so new, science has barely had the opportunity to research all the health and safety questions, especially those regarding long-term effects. Small studies have been conducted, but they have only been able to cover a minimal number of brands.

Trace elements of hazardous compounds have been found in e-cigs during the small studies. The most notable chemical found was ethylene glycol, the main ingredient in antifreeze.

In 2011, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided that e-cigarettes would be regulated under tobacco laws instead of medical. So far, the FDA has found nine harmful contaminates in e-cigs, versus the 11,000 found in traditional cigarettes.

E-cigarettes are not immune to controversy. Erika Seward, assistant vice president of National Advocacy for the American Lung Association, frequently speaks out against e-cigarettes on their marketing techniques and lack of regulation.

According to Seward, e-cigarettes use implied health claims in their marketing, glamorize their products, just as tobacco cigarettes do, and use candy and fruit flavors to hook kids.

E-cigs may be added to the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act (MCIAA) as soon as this year. Representative Phyllis Kahn, who authored the act in 1975, will be introducing a bill in the 2014 legislative session that will apply the same regulations to e-cigs that are currently in place for traditional tobacco products. Because local governments and individual businesses are currently making their own rules regarding e-cigarettes, Kahn is hoping that this will remove any doubt about where they can be used.

Thomas Glynn, director of science and trends for the American Cancer Society, reminds everyone that there is always a risk when you are inhaling anything other than clean, fresh air.

Annie Harman
Annie Harman is a reporter for Echo Press and The Osakis Review. She grew up in Detroit Lakes and graduated from the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire with a degree in print journalism and history in May 2012. Follow her on Twitter at annieharman
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