The health risks of E-cigarettes and second-hand vapor

Because of the risks and rising E-cigarette use, Orange County has proposed a rule banning E-cigarettes from bars and restaurants.


As he was smoking a cigarette on the corner of Franklin Street, Ted Montming said he understands the risks of second-hand smoke from cigarettes.

For that reason, the 19-year-old from Mooresville tries to be respectful about where he smokes, he said.

But E-Cigarettes?

“I don’t think second-hand vapor really harms anyone,” Montming, who occasionally uses E-Cigarettes, said. “I mean, second-hand smoke, I can see that affecting people because, you know, it’s like, 7,000 chemicals, like just being blown into the air, and then you’re inhaling that and there’s no filter going beyond that… But no, I don’t think vapor’s harmful.”

The Orange County Board of Health disagrees. The board may pass a rule banning E-cigarettes from bars and restaurants in the county.

The board postponed the plan to vote on the rule in a meeting August 24 because of the U.S. Surgeon General’s upcoming report on health concerns of E-cigarettes. That report is expected to come out sometime in the fall.

Coby Jansen Austin, director of programs and policy for the Orange County Health Department, said the report would help the board “understand the direction that the science is going before making a policy decision.”

Science appears to be trending against E-Cigarettes, Austin said.

E-Cigarettes typically use propyline glycol or vegatable glycerin as a base fluid. And Austin said those chemicals have been linked to acute eye and upper respiratory irritation.

Austin said the board was also concerned about nicotine exposure for pregnant women, adolescents and children.

A previous U.S. Surgeon General report identified nicotine as reducing fertility in mothers, risking infant death, lung development and growth.

Research suggests that high doses of second-hand vapor could harm children with asthma, Austin said. She said the board was also concerned about the potential of nicotine poisoning.

Though rare, some E-Cigarettes have exploded because of lithium battery malfunctions. The U.S. Fire Administration found 25 such instances between 2009 and 2014, with nine people sustaining injuries.

And there are other chemicals in E-cigarettes besides Nicotine. Austin said flavored E-cigarettes contain diacetyl and cinnamaldehyde, which have known associations with respiratory disease.

These concerns remain widely unknown, though.

“I’m not sure if it’s good for you or not,” said John Dixon, 60, of Durham, whose son uses E-cigarettes. “I don’t know.”

Dixon’s son smokes E-cigarettes instead of tobacco. He said at first, his son made the switch to save money.

“Maybe it’ll wean him off of tobacco completely,” Dixon said. “I think that’s kind of the direction I hope he’s going.”

Austin said many adults have used E-cigarettes as a tool to quit smoking. But for young people, that isn’t the case.

In North Carolina, the number of high school students who have used an e-cigarette rose from 1.7 percent in 2011 to 16.8 percent in 2015, according to the North Carolina Youth Tobacco Survey.

By comparison, cigarette use fell from 15.5 percent to 9.3 percent during that time frame.

“You’re actually seeing tobacco use rates go up again,” she said. “It’s not that they’re just displacing cigarettes for young people. It actually appears to be increasing nicotine addiction among young people.”

It was this rising use among youth that led the board to consider implementing a rule.

Coby said the U.S. Surgeon General’s report will likely highlight concerns with E-cigarettes that would support the potential rule.

“It appears that the research is moving in that direction, so it would be surprising if it didn’t,” she said.

She said if the report does not come out in the fall, the board will rely on findings from other research studies to decide on the rule.

Charles Gear, 57, of Chapel Hill, has been smoking since he was 16 years old. He said he agrees people should not smoke wherever they please.

“Well, a lot of people don’t like cigarette smoke, you know what I’m saying” Gear said. “And a lot of them don’t want to see the smoke get in their clothes, and I understand that, too, you know what I’m saying.

“So I try to have respect for the ones who do not, you know, smoke and stuff like that, you know. Like I’m on the sidewalk and someone says, ‘move down,’ I don’t mind moving down, because I understand where they’re coming from.”

He doesn’t agree with the laws enforcing this, though, because, he said, “You can’t stop anybody from smoking.”

Dixon, however, said that respect is why he agrees with those laws.

“I just don’t like seeing somebody blow smoke out of their mouth,” he said. “… I really don’t think it’s appropriate. That they ought to go outside as well, personally.”

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