Legislators hear pros and cons in e-cigarette debate

Tim Munson credits vaping – the name given for the use of electronic cigarettes – with restoring his health.

Justina Galletta, a 14-year smoker, says she quit tobacco overnight with the help of e-cigarettes.

And Jesse Buckner also says he was able to kick the habit, thanks to vaping.

“I don’t wake up hacking and coughing like Ozzy Osbourne, and I have more breath in my lungs,” Buckner said.

The three – all employees at area e-cigarette shops – say vaping is a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes. But health experts, school officials and some legislators say the jury is still out on its safety. In fact, a number of states, cities and municipalities – including, Chicago, New York City and even Cattaraugus County – have enacted regulations controlling the use of the product in public spaces.

Now, Erie County is taking a hard look at the issue.

Tuesday, an Erie County Legislature committee began discussions on restricting – though not banning – the use of e-cigarettes in the same manner regular cigarettes are regulated.

“What we’re talking about is regulating it and restricting it in a manner to what other cities have, so that those from the public that do not want to be exposed to these emissions – whether it’s for health reasons or nuisance reasons – don’t have to be,” said Legislator Peter J. Savage III, D-Buffalo.

That would include banning use of e-cigarettes in public facilities such as shopping malls, movie theaters, sports arenas and other places covered under the county’s 2003 Clean Air Act.

Mark J. Travers, a research scientist at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, was among those who testified at the informational hearing held by the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee. Travers gave tepid support to the idea that e-cigarettes might be useful as a tool for quitting smoking.

“With regard to e-cigarettes, let me be clear up front, there is reason to be hopeful about the potential to reduce the disease burden caused by tobacco,” Travers told lawmakers.

He then added that being less dangerous than conventional cigarettes did not make e-cigarettes safe.

“We know they emit toxins that are harmful,” Travers said, adding that it would be prudent to include e-cigarettes in existing legislation that already restricts the use of conventional cigarettes.

Lisa Talarico of Exotic Vapors in Blasdell, one of three e-cigarette shop owners who testified at Tuesday’s hearing, vehemently disagreed.

“I don’t think it should be treated anything like a traditional cigarette, because it’s not a cigarette. It’s not tobacco. It’s not tar,” Talarico said.

A former cigarette smoker herself, Talarico said she was diagnosed with emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD in March. Soon after, she turned to e-cigarettes.

“I haven’t taken any medications or been on oxygen or even been sick since starting this,” she said after the hearing. “It offends me that the government is trying to come in and stop us from living a healthier life, because I feel like I’m living a healthier life with this product.”

Travers was skeptical.

“I think she illustrated the dramatic benefits of quitting smoking regardless of what method you use to do that …Electronic cigarettes is not an approved cessation device, but we, certainly in the public health community, are optimistic that this is something that may help some people quit,” he said.

At Exscape Vape Lounge, which opened in May on Hertel Avenue, displays of hookahs, water pipes and herb vaporizers give way to a back room full of e-cigarette devices – the stainless steel and Pyrex glass “clearometers,” as well as the more expensive mechanical and battery “mods” – along with 60 e-juices typically containing natural and artificial flavorings, vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol, both used in the food industry.

The flavors have names such as vanilla cupcake, raspberry, cotton candy, custard, cheery limeade and strawberry fields. In the end, Munson said, vaping got him off cigarettes too.

Munson, area manager for the chain, which has seven other locations in Upstate New York, said the popularity of e-cigarettes has gone up exponentially.

He said he does not believe nicotine by itself caused any more of a problem than caffeine and is not harmful in smaller, regulated doses.

“It’s hard to say anything is 100 percent safe anyway. I think it will be hard to truly know the long-term effects until many more years have passed,” Munson said.

At Tuesday’s committee hearing, Travers tended to agree that obtaining conclusive information about the long-term effects of e-cigarettes is a ways off. However, he said, there are already many unintended consequences to contend with concerning the unregulated products. Nationally, he noted, e-cigarettes have grown into a $2 billion a year industry and are expected to outsell conventional cigarettes within 10 years.

“Some people may use e-cigarettes as a reason to continue their cigarette smoking as a rationale that they can cut back a few cigarettes a day and use an e-cigarette,” Travers said. “Youth who have never smoked take up these cigarettes and former smokers can be enticed to come back to the tobacco marketplace.”

At Buffalo Vapor Lounge, flavors include the locally named Kenmore Krush, with cantaloupe, berries and a touch of menthol, and Buffalo Black and Blue, featuring blackberry and blueberry flavors. There’s also Crystal Beach Watermelon Taffy and Riverside Rush.

A sign reads, “Vaping Kicks Ash.” The store, which opened 2½ years ago, was the first in the city to sell e-cigarettes, according to Buckner, the manager.

He said 10 milliliters of juice – equivalent to a carton of cigarettes – sells for $7 to $12. Customers choose their flavor and level of nicotine, often buying different juices to have a variety.

Galletta, owner of Vapor Effex in the Town of Tonawanda, has seen her nicotine level go down dramatically.She thinks the pharmaceutical and tobacco industries spread falsehoods because they “were beat to the punch.”

Lou Margolina, owner of Vaporize Me, which opened on Elmwood Avenue on the edge of Allentown, thinks the way e-cigarettes are being regulated in public spaces is contradictory.

“You will serve alcohol that undoubtedly has its own damaging properties, in a restaurant or bar. But you will not let people engage in an activity that is, for the most part, helping free them of another toxin. I understand the reason behind it, but if you’re going to take the moral high ground, then apply it to everything,” Margolina said.

The vapor store owner said, however, that regulations surrounding the ingredients make sense.

Anthony G. Billoni, director of the Erie-Niagara Tobacco-Free Coalition, also testified at Tuesday’s hearing, saying his organization has not taken an official stand on e-cigarettes. The aim of his group is to take smoking out of the mainstream. While e-cigarettes may show some early promise as a potential cessation device, that is hampered by the fact that it’s still unregulated and primarily untested.

“So we are just looking to protect those who don’t want any exposure to any emission,” Billoni said.

Source: http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region/medical/legislators-hear-pros-and-cons-in-e-cigarette-debate-20140923