Assignment 13: Smoking without fire

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- They don't make real smoke, but e-cigarettes are igniting a firestorm of debate.

Vaping or smoking e-cigarettes is the way millions like Lucas Andrjeski are getting their nicotine fix.

Andrjeski picked up e-cigarettes as a way to quit smoking. He noticed the differences from day one.

“I have better health. I have seen people pass away from lung cancer and I wish that they quit smoking,” Andrjeski said.

After hitting store shelves in the United States more than seven years ago, the popularity of e-cigs has grown leaps and bounds. Vape shops like the one Andrjeski works at say that’s due in large part to customers looking to kick their cigarette habit.

But making the switch isn't as safe as the vapor might seem according to the Eau Claire City County Health Department. Francie Peardon is the department’s community advocacy director.

“There are around 500 different brands and it’s in reaction to conventional smoking going away,” Peardon explained.

She says e-cigarettes are so new that scientists-- and even the government-- are playing catch-up on its effects.

“We need to learn more about nicotine products before we can trust them and not make the same mistakes that we did with tobacco products,” she said.

Peardon recently teamed up with several others in the medical community. They want to teach people about the dangers that lie in the newest smoking trend.

Lou Frase is a retired internal medicine doctor. His main concern with e-cigs lies in the nicotine they contain.

“Any nicotine delivery system is going to have hazard,” Dr. Frase said.
With liquids on the market containing anywhere from 0-2.4% nicotine, Frase says vaping is not a safe way to quit smoking.

“It's a very elaborate way to quit smoking with a device that itself is going to hook more smokers. Nicotine is addicting and people who have nicotine addiction need treatment,” Dr. Frase explained.

As a long term part of Eau Claire's Tobacco Free Partnership, Dave Weiss says he is most concerned about the lack of regulation on the products in the marketplace.

“Besides nicotine, there are other ingredients in these e-cigarettes and they really needed to be reviewed and much more data is needed,” Weiss said.

The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate e-cigs right now. That’s why companies like Durasmoke based in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin say they are racing to stay one step ahead of the game when it comes to the e-liquid it produces.

“It’s important that we set a standard in our industry. We have a lot of liquids that come from overseas that aren’t of the same quality that you get in the United States,” Durasmoke’s director of sales Nick Packard said.

Packard says Durasmoke keeps tabs on every step of the production and distribution process. He says the company also put a focus on keeping e-cigs out of the wrong hands.

“We think it’s very important that this is an 18 or older product,” he said. On the topic of flavor combinations and marketing, Packard said, “we try to cater our marketing away from that like cartoon characters or neon colors. To stop certain flavors though because of this is like saying an 80-year old won’t like chocolate cake.”

Back at the Eau Claire City-County Health Department it’s the endless flavor combinations like butterscotch and bubble gum that have health educators concerned for the younger generation.

“It’s very attractive to people it makes the product more fun it doesn't even feel like a drug it’s like candy,”

But in the vape shop, it’s the younger generation like Lucas Andrjeski that says e-cigarettes are still his answer to a nicotine addiction.

“I'm young and I am happy that I quit at a young age and vaping was very instrumental to my success to quitting smoking and chewing,” Andrjeski said.

FDA regulations on e-cigarettes are expected by this summer. This year, the Eau Claire City-County Health Department will add e-cigarettes to its tobacco compliance checks. It’s to make sure people under 18 aren’t buying them.

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