Elected officials throughout San Diego County and the state are working to try and stem the tide of America’s newest puffing craze: electronic cigarettes and vaporizers.
In recent months, manufacturers of the devices have been opening retail shops where people can buy e-cigarettes, vaporizers, and “e-juice,” the liquid used to produce the vapor.
Dense plumes of ultra-white vapor rise from the back room of Viper Vape Incorporated’s soon-to-be-opened retail store, located inside a mixed-use residential building off of Embarcadero Lane in Carlsbad. The men in the room put the final touches on the store. Some arrange the e-juice catridges in the back while others fidget with stainless-steel devices that are barely larger than a cigarette.
In the wood-paneled showroom stand, built-in cabinets house the small metal devices known in the industry as “vapes.” The names of the devices include brands such as Kanger, Joyetech, and Viper Vape’s own Aspire CES brand.
Viper Vape is one of several companies in San Diego County looking to capitalize on the e-cigarette and tobacco vaporizer craze that is changing the tobacco industry for the first time since filtered cigarettes were introduced in the 1950s.
During the past year, an increasing number smokers have turned to vaporizers and electronic cigarettes as a safer and less harmful alternative to burning tobacco. However, entrepreneurs in the e-cigarette and vaporizer industry can’t get away from the stigma associated with cigarettes. And, because the devices have gained popularity in such a short period of time, few health studies on the risks and potential benefits have been conducted, which has left the industry and lawmakers at cross purposes.
In December, the City of Carlsbad banned the use of e-cigarettes and vaporizers in restaurants, parks, the beach, and other public places. On January 1, San Diego State University announced it had banned smoking, both real and electronic cigarettes from campus. Vista enacted a less stringent ordinance that prohibited e-cigarettes and vaporizers indoors. Legislators in California are also expected to finalize a bill that would include e-cigarettes in the current laws regulating tobacco and the advertisement of tobacco products. Also expected to weigh in on the matter are elected officials in the City of San Diego and on the county board of supervisors. Currently, county and city staffers are in the beginning stages of drafting new ordinances.
The efforts to lump the electronic devices in with traditional cigarettes not only hurts small-business owners and manufacturers — the claims by those supporting the bans are steeped in misinformation, says Erik Hutchinson, co-owner of AmeriVape Technologies.
Hutchinson and his partner Kyle Kruger have teamed up with Viper Vape to manufacture components used in vaporizers.
“It’s upsetting,” says Hutchinson. “As a society trying to push a more healthy lifestyle, why would we stop or impede the progress to that very goal? We have found a perfect path to hopefully one day being able to stop smoking nationwide. Why would anyone stand in the way?”
But opponents of electronic cigarettes say they are less an alternative to smoking as they are a neat and easy introduction for kids to pick up the habit. Opponents frequently point to the lack of studies and lack of regulations on the e-juice. The chemical concoction is typically composed of vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol, and liquid nicotine.
Vegetable glycerin is used widely by the food and pharmaceutical industries as a moistener. Propylene glycol, the main ingredient of e-juice, is used in oral medications, shampoos, pet food, and baby wipes to prevent moisture loss.
Gena Knutson heads the tobacco-prevention programs at the Vista Community Clinic. “We, and the cities looking at prohibiting these devices, are coming at it from the youth angle. More kids are using e-cigarettes, and without proper regulations, law-enforcement officials aren’t able to confiscate them because there are no laws in place for them to do so.”
Knutson says the problem is that while state law prohibits vendors from selling to kids, it says nothing about possession. “They are clearly marketing to kids. Store owners are saying that single-use devices are flying out the door. That and the Centers for Disease Control has released a report showing increased use by middle-school and high-school students.”
“Overall, there’s just a lack of direction,” adds Knutson. “The [Food and Drug Administration] hasn’t been involved; however, we anticipate them to place the same marketing and packaging restrictions as given to cigarettes.”
Knutson admits that the use of e-cigarettes is “not nearly as dangerous as smoking or inhaling second-hand smoke.”
Hutchinson dismisses any claims that say e-juice poses health risks or that he or any others in the industry are marketing the devices to kids.
“They think that this will be a gateway to the younger generation,” says Hutchinson. “Right now, the FDA is trying to figure out how to label this. The carcinogens emitted from smoking traditional cigarettes just aren’t there. By vaping, you are cutting out over 4000 toxins that are there when smoking. There are absolutely no impacts to anyone standing near you, no such thing as second-hand smoke. It’s water vapor.”
As for nicotine, Hutchinson says, “Not all e-juice has nicotine. It is up to the individual. That said, bans on e-juice with nicotine raises several questions. Are we banning nicotine patches or nicotine gum? Will asthma inhalers be banned in public? Potatoes? Icing for cakes? Gum? Asthma inhalers? All of those things, to some extent, have compounds found in e-juice.... Truth of the matter is, we need to encourage quitting smoking by alternatives and education, not by force and hatred.”
Hutchinson dismisses claims that manufacturers and those in the industry are targeting kids.
“Marketing for e-cigs is almost non-existent due to the existing regulations on tobacco products and e-cigs already being treated as tobacco. The flavors are being made to everyone’s taste.
“Yes, kids will mimic their elders and try what they should not be trying. Kids smoke regular cigarettes that taste horrible and, quite frankly, it’s easier for kids to get cigarettes. To what extent are we going to keep giving money to Big Tobacco and closing any real way for people to make the break from tobacco products? No, instead we are using children to fight for Big Tobacco. Awesome.”