By Jeff Vaughn
19th Aerospace Medicine Squadron Health Promotion manager
In August of 2010 the state of Arkansas began enforcing the “Clean Air on Campus Act.” This law banned all smoking on state funded college campuses. As adjunct faculty, I began seeing students using something new as a result of the ban. The new device was an electronic cigarette.
The electronic cigarette is a relatively new nicotine delivery system used to replace traditional tobacco cigarettes. The e-cigarette is a battery powered device shaped like a cigarette but contains no tobacco. Instead, it uses a heating element to vaporize a liquid that contains nicotine and other flavoring chemicals. It delivers nicotine while at the same time provides the psychological comfort of holding a cigarette. Advocates say it’s a safer alternative to smoking, while critics point to the Food and Drug Administration who claims it contains carcinogens and other toxic chemicals.
So what’s the truth? The truth is we really don’t know enough about e-cigarettes to make a case for either side. While the e-cigarette does eliminate many of the harmful chemicals and tar in tobacco smoke as well as second hand smoke we don’t truly know the long term impact of inhaling nicotine vapor and the chemicals used to flavor e-cigarettes. In addition, e-cigarettes are not regulated by the FDA, which means individuals using e-cigarettes don’t know exactly what nicotine dose they’re getting from one cartridge to the next.
What we do know is nicotine is extremely addictive and increases heart rate and blood pressure in humans. Hypertension is a primary cause of heart disease, stroke, and dementia. While nicotine has not been labeled a carcinogen by its self, it has been noted to directly cause cancer through a number of different mechanisms and even promote tumor growth in animal studies. Nicotine use in pregnant women has directly been linked to birth defects and should never be used in any form by an expectant mother.
The Air Force’s stance on e-cigarettes is to treat them like all other tobacco products. According to Col. John Oh, 19th AMDS chief Health Promotion, the Air Force Medical Agency, AFI 40-102, Tobacco Use, explicitly included e-cigarettes under the definition of tobacco and thus subjected e-cigarettes to all the restrictions implemented for cigarettes, cigars and smokeless tobacco. Dr. Oh stated three reasons for placing e-cigarettes in the same category.
“First the FDA categorizes e-cigarettes as a tobacco product, second the long-term safety of e-cigarettes is unknown and finally we need to proceed cautiously because of the second-order consequences of getting more Airmen addicted to nicotine in e-cigarettes, and the very real risk that the addiction will lead to greater use of tobacco products.”
Tobacco and nicotine use have a profound negative impact on health. All Airmen need to make health choices that result in positive force health in today’s fiscally constrained environment. We encourage all Airmen to take advantage of the tobacco cessation program at the Health and Wellness Center. If you use tobacco and are ready to quit, contact the HAWC at 501-987-7288.