A three year member of the Downtown Athens community, the Hookah Hook-Up is one of many local smoke shops that have seen the rising interest in e-cigarettes despite the rarely understood side effects, namely nicotine addiction. Andy Strickland, a member of the Hookah Hook-Up team, seems to support not only the use of e-cigarettes but also the culture surrounding the alternative smoking culture. (Photo/Garrett Leffelman)

On Oct. 1, the prohibition of tobacco on UGA’s campus will come into effect. Included in the new smoking policy is a ban on electronic cigarettes, a smoking device that uses vapor instead of tobacco.

Though e-cigarettes are marketed as a device to assist in smoking cessation, experts are uncertain about the health consequences. While the device is promoted as a safe alternative to conventional smoking, many doctors agree that e-cigarettes are doing more harm than good, especially for teenagers.

Dr. Kay Brooks, public service assistant for the UGA College of Pharmacy and director of the Smoking Cessation Program, said that she does not support e-cigarettes for smoking cessation since they are not yet an approved device.

“We can’t guarantee what is in an e-cigarette,” Brooks said. “Nicotine quantities vary by manufacturer and there is also research that suggests some of the ingredients may cause cancer.”

Brooks also said that there is a lack of standardization in e-cigarettes and the device can vary greatly from one manufacturer to another.

While proponents of electronic cigarettes claim they can help smoking addicts break the habit safely, the ingredients in an e-cigarette are still not tested and approved by the FDA.

Dr. Jessica Muilenburg, associate professor with the Department of Health Promotion and Behavior, said that e-cigarettes in and of themselves may be just as harmful as conventional cigarettes since they contain nicotine, a highly addictive substance as well as other chemicals.

One major concern is that e-cigarettes appeal to teens. E-cigarettes often come in a variety of flavors and colorful packaging that seem to appeal to a younger crowd. While many teens are aware of the health impacts of conventional cigarettes, most do not realize that smoking e-cigarettes could be just as bad and a nicotine addiction is still a concern.

Carter Martin, an English major from Peachtree City, said that from her experience, most students consider e-cigarettes to be safe and harmless.

Besides the health effects of smoking e-cigarettes, the potential for them to promote future tobacco use for teens is a worry as well.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 250 thousand youth who have never smoked cigarettes have used e-cigarettes. Another study by the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that e-cigarette use in youth does not discourage and may encourage conventional cigarette use. Statistics like these cause health advocates to wonder if e-cigarettes might become the gateway for teens to use other tobacco products.

Because of these concerns, Muilenburg believes there should be more regulations on minors’ use of e-cigarettes.

Matthew Ashburn, manager of the Hookah Hook-up in downtownAthens , has noted a large increase in e-cigarette and e-hookah purchases recently, particularly from college aged individuals. Many of the customers who come into Ashburn’s shop interested in e-cigarettes see the electronic alternatives as a safer way to enjoy smoking.

“In the past two years, things have really exploded with e-cigarettes,” Ashburn said.

The current dilemma in the e-cigarette debate is primarily the lack of information available about the product. Once a definitive conclusion about e-cigarettes is reached, the answer will be more clear. Yet, even if e-cigarettes prove to be less harmful than traditional cigarettes, the potential for them to endorse youth tobacco use seems to outweigh their benefits.

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