The toll tobacco has had on our society is irrevocable and plenty, yet persistent and routine. Though the use of tobacco in any form has ebbed and flowed over time, an estimated 44 million Americans currently smoke. Over 500,000 of those smokers live in Iowa, paying well over $1 billion into the $80 billion tobacco industry of 2013.
It seems that while some are simply opposed to e-cigarettes in general, a lack of understanding or awareness of the device fuels a troublesome opposition for most. The government has a responsibility to foster an informed public, considering much of the public’s health awareness material is provided and funded by government initiatives. Unfortunately, our government has failed us on this matter, and the market made a regrettable choice when it accepted the term ‘cigarette’ in the title of this product. Alone, this could be (and often is) shallow enough grounds for absolute dismissal.
For those who don’t already know, an electronic cigarette is an ‘atomizer’ (wire + wick) powered by a lithium-ion cell (as is used in most electronics), prompting a propylene glycol/vegetable (generally, palm/coconut) glycerin solution to be heated. It’s essentially the same concept as a large-scale fog machine, condensed for practicality’s sake. This mixture can include an optional nicotine solution at strengths ranging from 0-2.4%*, though levels ultimately vary based on manufacturer. Propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin are virtually non-toxic, FDA-approved substances commonly used in foods, cosmetics and pharmaceutical products for years. Why are we suddenly afraid of these substances?
My goal is to inform you that vapor is simply not smoke; there is no combustion and hundreds of degrees of difference. We can debate the effects of nicotine all day if the last two decades hasn’t been long enough, but we cannot continue to neglect the ongoing harm tobacco is doing in our communities. Dr. Igor Burstyn, professor at Drexel University’s Dept. of Environmental and Occupational Health, conducted a thorough study on e-cigarettes and the produced vapors, concluding “there are no known toxicological synergies among compounds in the aerosol.” With over 9,000 similar determinations, why have we chosen to ignore the science of e-cigarettes?
Even with the onset of Nicotine Replacement Therapies, 1-800 numbers and smoking bans, Iowa’s numbers are barely shifting. The State of Iowa will generate roughly $227 million in tobacco tax revenues this year (if we’re believing the CDC on the number of smokers, though we likely have many more), yet the state is only directing $5.4 million of tobacco tax revenues annually towards programs like Quitline Iowa, which produce no exceptional results. Without embracing e-cigs as an alternative for smokers, what’s left that works?
Do not allow those charged with representing the people to pull any plugs on these life saving-and-changing devices. We should be celebrating the innovation of the times, not banning a device with potential to eliminate tobacco. Like anything else in America, let the market create the best product it can in the time it takes to do so.
• Chris Jackson is a Cedar Rapids resident. Commments: firstname.lastname@example.org