Up in e-smoke

LIHUE — Although Jesse Voorhies has been smoking since he was 14, the Wailua resident is turning away from traditional cigarettes for their new electronic alternatives.

“It helps out a lot, if I don’t have cigarettes, that’s the thing,” he said. “I would actually rather smoke that then a cigarette.”

For many youth across the U.S, e-cigarettes are becoming the new fad. A study conducted by the U.S Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration showed that the rate of normal cigarette use among adolescents has decreased, while the rate for e-cigarette use, referred to as “vaping,” is rising.

The study showed that from 2002 to 2003, 8.7 percent of Hawaii children ages 12 to 17 had smoked a cigarette in a month, but during 2012 to 2013, the number had dropped to 5.4 percent.

This showed a decreasing pattern of smoking throughout 49 of the 50 states. The national level of smoking dropped from 12.6 percent in 2003 to less than 6.1 percent in 2013.

There is an increasing use of e-cigarettes among youth, according to a study conducted by the U.S Center for Disease Control.

The study’s data showed current e-cigarette use among high school students increased from 4.5 percent in 2013 to 13.4 percent in 2014, an increase of 660,000 to 2 million students.

A study conducted by the University of Hawaii Cancer Center in 2013 found that 30 percent of 1,941 Hawaii students surveyed reported using e-cigarettes. The study showed that of the 30 percent, 17 percent were only using e-cigarettes.

Dr. Thomas Willis, interim director of U.H Manoa’s Cancer Center Prevention’s and Control Program, said researchers don’t know why the rate of e-cigarettes is high among Hawaii teens, but urged caution for the adolescents and their parents.

“You have to think carefully about the risks and benefits of using either tobacco or nicotine, which is known to be an addictive substance,” he said. “A lot of teens think it is easy to quit smoking but it isn’t true.”

Lila Johnson, manager of the Tobacco Prevention Duration program, was concerned about the use of e-cigarettes amongst youth.

“We find it alarming. We are learning that probably we have among the highest performance for e-cigarettes across the country,” she said.

However, some Hawaii residents don’t see the problem with e-cigarettes and view them as a healthier alternative to normal cigarettes.

Although Voorhies has heard about the health factors of e-cigarettes, he would like to see more research done on the matter to determine the harm they could do.

“As far as I’m concerned, the e-cigarettes don’t have 4,000 chemicals that you put into your system,” Voorhies said. “That’s my view point on it.”

Edwin Dela Cruz, manager of the cigarette store Fat Clouds, said e-cigarettes are a healthier equivalent to normal cigarettes, but doesn’t believe adolescents should use them.

“I think anything is healthier than smoking a cigarette,” Dela Cruz said. “Hands down, the law is the law and 18 is the legal age. As far as selling it to someone underage, no, I’m against it.”

Although the dangers of e-cigarettes are still under investigation, Coalition Coordinator for Tobacco Free Hawaii Kauai branch Valerie Saiki said there are dangerous chemicals within the aerosol of some e-cigarette liquids including lead, nickel and formaldehyde, in addition to nicotine.

Saiki has also seen the effects of e-cigarettes on her clients.

“I’ve had some clients who say they’ve quit cigarettes and moved onto e-cigarettes to help them quit but their carbon monoxide levels have increased,” she said.

E-cigarettes are currently not regulated by the FDA, but there are those who are taking a stand against all cigarette use in Hawaii. Federal lawmakers have passed a bill, SB1030, which would increase the smoking age in the state from 18 to 21. The bill is awaiting Gov. Ige’s signature.

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Averie Soto, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or asoto@thegardenisland.com.

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