A year and a half ago when e-cigarettes and vaping were gaining traction and new vaping stores were opening there was a dust-up in the state over whether these products should be included in the statewide ban on indoor smoking.
Since smoking was defined in the law as burning or holding or inhaling or exhaling smoke from any lighted piece of smoking equipment containing tobacco, vaping got a pass since the e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco — although some contain nicotine, the addictive part of cigarettes.
Still some businesses and other places banned vaping in their facilities.
Vaping enthusiasts touted e-cigarettes as a safer alternative to regular cigarettes with all their health hazards and argued that many users were turning to vaping as a way of kicking the cigarette habit.
That argument made some sense, but the fact was we knew little at the time of the ill effects — or lack of them — that e-cigarettes posed for users.
At the time we wrote: “We are as a society, in the investigative stage with regard to e-cigarettes. Some of us think they are harmless, some of us think they’re harmful. Which means we’re going to need expert analysis, scientific study before we take governmental action against them.”
This week we got the results of one such study and it posted a big red warning flag for vaping.
The study done by Harvard University scientists and funded by the National Institutes of Health found that 75 percent of e-cigarettes tested contained diacetyl, a flavoring chemical that has been linked to the severe respiratory illness bronchiolitis obliterans. The debilitating lung condition is known as “popcorn lung” and has been associated with food workers who inhaled artificial butter flavoring in microwave popcorn facilities.
The study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, also found the presence of two other flavoring compounds — acetoin and 2,3-pentadoine — which also pose respiratory hazards. In sum, at least one of the three chemicals was found in 47 of the 51 flavors tested.
Assistant Professor Joseph G. Allen, the lead author of the study, said, “It’s prudent that we act soon to regulate these e-cigarettes. (People) don’t know the risks associated with inhaling these chemicals … We need to move more quickly.”
The Harvard study, like most studies, used a small sample of e-cigarettes — 51 types of e-cigarettes from nine brands — out of more than 7,000 varieties of flavored e-cigarettes on the market, but nevertheless it is a harsh indictment.
The researchers selected flavors based on their appeal to children, teenagers and young adults — flavors like Cherry Crush, Peach Schnapps, Vanilla Bean and Grape Hookah.
That selective testing reflects the rapid rise in popularity of e-cigarettes with young people. While regular cigarette use dropped from 15.8 percent of the nation’s high schoolers in 2011 to 9.2 percent in 2014, e-cigarette use rose to 13.4 percent in 2014, according to the National Youth Tobacco Survey.
That marked the first time that e-cigarette use surpassed regular cigarettes — and that youthful marketing is also an indictment of the vaping industry.
Further scientific testing needs to be done — including tests on the possible ill effects of “second-hand” effects from e-cigarettes.
But the Harvard study has put e-cigarette users on notice that vaping is not as benign as its advocates would have had us believe.