I have been covering the Consumer Electronics Show for National Public Radio for the last several years, and am always impressed by the thorough uselessness – versus the utility — of some of the doodads they come up with every season. One of the most absurd was the “electronic cigarette” – it looks like the real thing but delivers nicotine in a “harmless” vapor instead of being surrounded by tar-laden, lung-blackening smoke.
A friend with a generous appetite for booze and tobacco recently tried to hype me on the e-cigarette’s virtues, claiming that he’d been able to dose down his nicotine intake month to month and that he hadn’t smoked a proper cigarette in a year. But what’s the difference, I wondered? You’re still addicted to the active ingredient, right?
Apologists for the industry claim that e-cigarettes don’t turn one into an addict, it’s the nicotine that’s the villain. After a half-century of listening to tobacco empire spokesmen denying that cigarettes are addictive, we have a new industry putting a whole new spin on the issue. However, the FDA analyzed the purportedly harmless vapor from the e-cig and found a number of toxic chemicals therein – including diethylene glycol, an ingredient used in antifreeze. Hey, at least your lungs won’t overheat like a bad radiator, eh?
Dr. Mike Feinstein, a spokesman for the American Lung Association, has said that “People are inhaling some type of chemical vaporized compound into their lungs without really knowing what’s in it.” And Dr. Robert Greene of the Palm Beach Cancer Institute adds that “the doses of nicotine that you get could conceivably be higher than what you would get in a typical cigarette.” Thankfully, the FDA recently announced it will begin to regulate e-cigarettes as a tobacco product. If it walks like a duck…..
What’s worse, these products are being marketed and sold to young people in shopping mall kiosks and online, and contain no health warnings thus far. Though the industry denies such ploys, consider this: the “flavors” they offer for nicotine vapor delivery include Banana Split, Chocolate Raspberry and Cool Mint. Even more cynically, the battery-operated faux-smokes claim to be “eco-friendly,” meaning no ashes, smoke or butts. Nicotine is green – let’s all light up and save the polar caps!
Last word: Of course most of the manufacturers of these robot Lucky Strikes are in China, where there are absolutely no regulations of any sort regarding what goes into the “e-liquid’ that is vaporized for human consumption. Karma strikes back: this could all be cosmic retribution for the “opium wars” of the nineteenth century, when British traders were importing opium from India into China against the wishes of the Chinese government.