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A debate going up in smoke

The rise of electronic cigarettes has a number of industries buzzing. Pitched as an effective tool for tobacco cessation, as well as a safe way to get your nicotine fix, smokers were told the magic bullet had finally arrived. And the best part? They’re smoke-free so you can “light up” anywhere – inside, at work, in your car. Nirvana had been reached.

Meanwhile, health experts have been pulling the reins on e-cigarettes, and hard. As of now, there is not enough research to conclude that e-cigarettes or vaping has lasting harmful or beneficial effects.

Dr. Peter Shields, co-chair of the Tobacco Free Implementation Committee at Ohio State, which recently instated a campus-wide ban on tobacco products (including e-cigarettes), urged potential users to be wary of the claims surrounding the modern nicotine-delivery devices.

“Anyone who tells you these things are healthy and causing people to quit aren’t basing it off scientific facts,” he said. “They’re guessing.”

Claims of health risks or benefits shouldn’t be presumed true until there is adequate research to support either, explained Shields, who is also the deputy director of the OSU Comprehensive Cancer Center. E-cigarettes and vaping are relatively new, so research is both lacking and inconclusive at this point.

“We may have hypotheses that it helps people quit, but we also have hypotheses that it may be harmful,” Shields said, stressing the word hypotheses.

Shields pointed to three major concerns with e-cigarettes and vaping, the first being the harm users may experience when they fail to act as successful methods of quitting.

Researchers have found that it can take a smoker multiple failed attempts to quit before finally kicking the habit, Shields said. If it turns out that e-cigarettes aren’t as effective as people believe and it doesn’t work them, that prolongs the time spent harming their bodies further and not finding an alternative method that will work for them.

“We may have hypotheses that it helps people quit, but we also have hypotheses that it may be harmful.”

According to Kevin Masters, co-owner of Crawford & Masters Vapor Bar in the Short North, almost all of his customers are coming from some sort of tobacco habit, whether it’s smoking or other forms. He realized that research in the shop’s favor is still limited, but he pointed to what his customers say about the experience.

“It is very much a ‘proof is in the pudding’ situation, the industry doesn’t really need us to talk it up because there are so many happy customers,” he said.

While Shields agreed that a lifetime spent smoking e-cigarettes rather than traditional cigarettes would likely be better in the long run, the unanswered questions still raise concern.

Most e-cigarettes contain two main chemicals, glycerin and propylene glycol, which are deemed safe for consumption and cosmetic purposes by the FDA. The effects of smoking these chemicals are yet to be known. Another potential concern, according to Shields, is the flavoring added to many of these products.

“These things are now coming in a variety of flavors, and we don’t know if those flavorings could be toxic,” Shields said. “Take cinnamon, for example: think of inhaling cinnamon straight into the lungs. That’s pretty corrosive, so we don’t know what these different flavors may be doing.”

In reference to the quality of products, Masters said there is an enormous difference between the premium liquids and devices at his store and those that can be purchased at a gas station, such as the popular brand Blu.

The bottom line is there is yet to be a 100 percent confirmation these products will help or harm you. While it appears e-cigarettes might be a useful tool in years to come, individuals committed to kicking their tobacco habit may want to stick to proven methods. Better play it safe than to be caught with a smoking gun.

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