September 26, 2013 9:28:05 AM
Forty state attorneys general, including Mississippi's Jim Hood, co-signed a letter this week imploring the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to issue more-stringent regulations on electronic cigarette advertising, ingredients and sales by Oct. 31.
The letter, written on behalf of the National Association of Attorneys General, asks FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg to impose similar restrictions on e-cigarettes provided by 2009's Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. By law, the FDA can regulate aspects of the tobacco industry, including warning placements and advertising to minors.
E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that heat liquid nicotine into a vapor. Product sales, the letter states, have doubled every year since 2008, and the e-cigarette industry is projected to make $1.7 billion this year.
The letter takes exception to many manufacturers' usage of flavors -- "such as cherry, chocolate, gummy bear and bubble gum" -- and other advertisements as an attempt to specifically market the product to youth. It cites two Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studies that show e-cigarette usage among school-age children doubled between 2011 and 2012.
"The increased usage among young people echoes the growth among adult users, and researchers indicated that aggressive marketing, in part, drove the increase," the letter states.
"Unlike traditional tobacco products, there are no federal age restrictions to prevent children from obtaining e-cigarettes," Hood said in a release.
Rita Baldwin, an OCH Regional Medical Center respiratory therapist who works with the hospital's smoking cessation program, said she has noticed more and more patients switching to e-cigarettes, thinking they're a safer alternative that tobacco-based products. Still, intake of the electronic version's nicotine poses severe health risks, she said.
"People are buying those now because they think, 'Oh, it won't hurt me.' They still do. Nicotine still does," she said. "Nicotine works on the brain's receptors. It's an addictive substance, by all means. Studies have shown people who are addicted have similar qualities as someone who is addicted to heroin.
"Studies have also shown the vapor (released by e-cigarettes) can be harmful to those who already have problems, including patients with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), asthma and emphysema," Baldwin added.
Smoking, itself, poses severe risks to many organs and bodily functions -- from the heart disease to cancer -- but nicotine alone can change how a person's body works.
"It can actually interfere with the way medications work inside the body," she said, referring to insulin intake by diabetics. "The medical society has shown when a smoker comes off nicotine, the medication works better. In some cases, the amount needed to keep their blood sugar under control can be reduced."
OCH offers a six-week cessation program for smokers, traditional or otherwise, that provides counseling, encouragement and nicotine-replacement therapy. For more information on the program, call (662) 625-3039.
"The day you stop smoking, your body will immediately start repairing itself. After one year, your chances of coronary artery disease decreases dramatically," Baldwin said. "You hear it's a willpower thing. That you can quit any time you want. Most people can't without help, because it's an addiction that requires help.
"I've heard people say things like, 'Oh, my great grandmother smoked for 50 years and died at 92.' The thing is our lifestyles now are so different than they were. We have so many more environmental problems," she added. "We're trying to teach a new strategy: It's all about changing your lifestyle. If you continue to do the same thing day in and day out, how can you expect different results?"
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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