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Health groups applaud recent challenges to e-cigarette safety claims


WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAU) -- Recent reports challenging the safety of electronic cigarettes have brought calls to regulate the devices. The Centers for Disease Control recently issued a statement saying the number of calls to poison centers involving e-cigarette liquids containing nicotine rose from one per month in September 2010 to 215 per month in February 2014. That accounts for over 51% of the poison center calls. They also question what other ingredients are in the mostly unregulated fluids used by the devices.  The World Health Organization is also urging governments to regulate the devices and their advertising, according to the New York Times.

The CDC also says the number of young Americans who have tried electronic cigarettes but never used conventional tobacco tripled in 2013 from 2011, to more than 250,000. The University of Athens, Greece also did tests on volunteers to measure their lung capacity and airway resistance after using e-cigarettes and other vaping devices, and found them to be harmful to the lungs.

Destinee Coenen is a Public Health Educator with the Marathon County Health Department. She says the devices have been marketed as a safe alternative or as an aid to stop smoking, but you’re really just changing from one health risk to another one.  “There’s a perception out there that these products are healthier and safer, but what we’re finding out is that’s not the case. There are known carcinogens in them. The products are marketed as a safe alternative to to smoking conventional cigarettes, and many users do not know what they are taking in when they use e-cigarettes.”

Clear air laws protect the public from traditional tobacco smoking in public places, but there are almost no restriction on the use of e-cigarettes and vaping products, which Coenen says can also be harmful to the user and to other people nearby.  “We don’t exactly know what is in the vapor when somebody breathes out. You know, there have been studies done, and they found recently that there is such thing as a second-hand vapor. The carcinogens that somebody would take in when they’re using an e-cigarette have been found in this second-hand vapor.”

There is deep division between the anti-vaping crowd, which would like to see the state’s clean air laws modified to include electronic smoking products and the product users, tobacco companies that make the products, and their lobbyists. So far, there’s not much traction at the Legislature or at the federal government to amend the clean air laws. Coenen believes the issue is important and should be addressed.  “What we know is that 86% of the public in the State of Wisconsin enjoy having clean indoor air, so we want to make sure that we can protect that.”