E-Cigs

Christian Hardy puffs on an electronic cigatette inside Fire Creek Coffee. (Taylor Mahoney/Arizona Daily Sun)

taylor mahoney

It’s not smoke, but that doesn’t mean vaporizing is safe.

That’s the message coming from the Coconino County Public Health Services District.

Electronic cigarettes are soaring in popularity, doubling in use each year since 2008. Patrons smoke them in downtown bars and coffee shops. And as more people take up the habit, an increasing number of workplaces and public institutions have already banned e-cigarettes and other vaporizing devices.

In 2011, the Board of Supervisors added electronic cigarettes to their existing smoking ban in unincorporated Coconino County.

But that message hasn’t gotten out everywhere.

At the Mountainaire Tavern, an employee contacted Friday by the Daily Sun said electronic cigarettes were allowed to be smoked on the premise and that he was unaware of any ban.

And now Coconino County health officials want to add other electronic smoking devices to the existing ban as well — making it illegal to vape any substance in public. Health officials say that not only are electronic cigarettes potentially harmful to the user, they also have toxins that could be harmful as secondhand smoke.

Some worry that the industry’s chosen flavors are also aimed at minors, which could create traditional smokers later in life.

“It’s of concern to us and to parents as well,” said Assistant Chief Health Officer for Coconino County Mike Oxtoby. “When you start to add a flavor of peppermint, cherry or bubblegum, it really raises the interest of youth and can get them into a habit that is not healthy.”

MUNICIPALITIES NOT INCLUDED

The health district put the issue before its advisory board last month, asking them to recommend that the Board of Supervisors embrace a ban. The advisory board is made up of physicians, nurses, physical therapists, retired people and elected officials.

If Coconino County does adopt the ban, it would not necessarily affect all of the 1,400 establishments covered under the current ban on classic cigarettes. Incorporated areas of the county, such as the city of Flagstaff, would have to decide if they wanted to take a position on banning electronic cigarettes (see related story).

More than 100 municipal and state governments already have a ban of one form or another. Other countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Israel and Mexico, have banned electronic cigarettes outright.

“We’re not looking to ban the product. Our goal as public health proponents is to ban the use in public places,” Oxtoby said. “What we’re asking the advisory board to consider is to regulate electronic nicotine delivery systems — ENDS — that would include traditional electronic cigarettes, hookahs, pipe vaporizers and electronic hookahs.”

And when business owners call the county to ask about legality, health officials already recommend forbidding the practice.

LONG-TERM STUDIES SCARCE

No long-term studies have been done on the burgeoning device. And the results so far on human health are muddled by a lack of comprehensive research and by industry-funded studies.

That’s not to say there aren’t reasons to be concerned. People with asthma, heart disease and respiratory disease have already been warned off. The World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control are both advocating for more research to be done.

“There have been some studies done on the products and 10 known agents have been found that are known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity,” Oxtoby said. “We think that is too big of a health risk to expose the population to.”

Meanwhile, 48 state attorneys general, including Arizona’s, have asked the Food and Drug Administration to get involved. The agency has yet to look at electronic cigarettes.

“The toxins are less than a traditional cigarette, but they’re still really high,” Oxtoby said. “It goes back to the long-term studies and the lack of regulations by the FDA. No two e-cigs are made alike. It’s really buyer beware. You don’t know what you could be inhaling. That’s attributed to the lack of regulation by the FDA.”

Eric Betz can be reached at 556-2250 or ebetz@azdailysun.com.

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