An ordinance passed May 17 by the City Council banning the sale of flavored tobacco, including menthol, was the right move, according to two UC San Diego scientists, whose ongoing research indicates that daily use of the electronic cigarette has long-term negative effects on the lungs and other organs.
The Flavored Tobacco Ordinance, known as the Stop Adolescent Addiction From E-Cigarettes (SAAFE) Act. was led by Council members Marni von Wilpert of District 5 and dr. Jennifer Campbell of District 2. Californians will vote in November on a possible ban on flavored tobacco products statewide.
Statistics show that more than 30 million Americans smoke cigarettes, with around 1,600 young people trying their first cigarette per day. An additional 12 million adults in the country now use e-cigarettes, with the highest usage rates among 18-24 year olds.
“Flavored tobacco products are intentionally marketed to children, and I’m proud that our city is taking action to prevent the sale of these products and protect our young people,” von Wilpert said.
“We need to stop Big Tobacco from aggressively targeting our children and vulnerable communities,” Campbell said. “Stop Adolescent Addiction From E-Cigarettes will help protect our communities from the tobacco industry that makes customers addicted to nicotine for life.”
John P. Pierce, Ph.D., professor emeritus at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science and UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, and Laura Crotty Alexander, MD, associate professor of medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine and Pulmonary Critical Care Section Chief at the San Diego Veterans Health System, both are studying the biological and health effects of e-cigarette use. They both talked about the importance of the City’s new ordinance banning flavored tobacco.
“The problem is that e-cigarettes have changed drastically over time,” Pierce said, adding, “The Surgeon General has declared an epidemic with young children showing a dramatic increase in the use of these e-cigarettes. And these aromas (of tobacco) have a lot to do with it.
Although long-term conclusions about e-cigarettes versus cigarette use have yet to be made, Crotty Alexander currently believes that e-cigarette use is “the least of the two evils”. But she stressed: “It’s trading one nicotine product for another.”
Crotty Alexander pointed out that tobacco smoke and e-cigarette smoke are “very different inhalants. “There are hundreds of flavors with different chemicals mixed together to create the tobacco flavored liquid,” she noted. “And well over 80% of e-cigarettes are now produced by big tobacco companies.”
Some people switch to e-cigarettes from tobacco thinking it will help them quit smoking all together. But, so far, Pierce said his research “has been unable to find any benefit of e-cigarettes for quitting smoking. Of those who switched to e-cigarettes, within two years, about the same number have resumed smoking cigarettes as those who have used other alternatives to tobacco.There is no evidence that you can switch to these (e-cigarettes) and stay there for long.
On a more positive note, Crotty Alexander believes that the flavored tobaccos used in e-cigarettes “are a help for people trying to break their addiction to nicotine of all kinds.” Nonetheless, she pointed out that the lungs weren’t meant for vaping but for taking in oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide. “We have observed a multitude of changes in the lungs with vaping, so we know that it has a (negative) impact on the structure and function of the lungs,” she concluded.
When asked if there was a message she wanted to get across about the use of flavored tobacco and vaping, Crotty Alexander replied, “They shouldn’t consider it safe or healthy. It is an addictive substance, and it will have health effects. We don’t know what the ultimate impacts will be. We have seen an increase in different types of cancer. We saw changes consistent with heart disease, and even changes in mood and behavior. »
In testimony before city council, many small business owners complained they would be unduly harmed by the flavored tobacco ban, saying the product accounted for between a quarter and nearly half of their sales. Some of them also argued that children’s parents, not the government, should be responsible for how their children are raised and the choices they make in terms of personal habits and health.