POSTED ON APRIL 3, 2013:
E-cigarettes now commonplace
You've seen them, and you've seen a couple of different versions of them. There's the electronic cigarette that looks like an actual cigarette, complete with a battery-powered orange glow coming from the end of it. Then there's the giant nicotine vaporizer that looks like it's actually a duck call, even more so when people wear them on lanyards around their necks.
"Those are modified electronic cigarettes," said Thomas Kiklas, director of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association (TVECA). "They have a bigger tank in them and hold a little more power. And they generate a little bit more vapor. But the average user uses the smaller one."
Whichever one people choose, there are all manner of choices for them when they use them, a process sometimes referred to as "vaping." There are flavors that people can use when they reload their units -- from run-of-the-mill things like menthol and regular old tobacco to Cuban cigar and more baffling choices like banana cream pie, peanut butter, and blueberry -- and it seems that as e-cigarettes grow in popularity, the more options are coming open to the consumer -- and prices are dropping, too.
That's not to say that there are no controversies surrounding e-cigarettes and their larger, more powerful counterparts.
As if anticipating a question about a recent Greek study that may show e-cigarette vapors to be harmful to the lungs, or about the fact that some countries have completely banned the devices, Kiklas commented on the inherent danger of pretty much everything any of us ever does at any point in life.
"Anything can be considered dangerous if you take enough of it," he said. "Water can kill you. You can drown in it or you can drink too much. "
The Centers for Disease Control issued a statement in February on the popularity of e-cigarettes, noting that while they "appear" to have far fewer toxins than traditional cigarettes, further research should be done on how they affect long-term health.
"There is still a lot we don't know about these products, including whether they will decrease or increase use of traditional cigarettes," CDC Director Tom Frieden said in the statement.
Joe Kardos is a legal assistant here in Tulsa. He started using e-cigarettes when he discovered he was a bit tired of actual smokes.
"Cigarettes just got too much," he said. "Too strong, too overbearing. I tried one, and it seemed lighter and it got me over the edge of actually needing the cigarette."
E-cigarettes haven't even been around for a decade.
"They go back to 2005 in China," Kiklas said "They came to the United States in 2006, and the market really took off in 2008 or 2009."
However, the Food and Drug Administration caught wind of the product and got involved in trying to regulate them.
"There was a company called Smoking Everywhere," Kiklas recounted. "The FDA was claiming that what they were selling was a drug delivery device."
Eventually, a court ruled that e-cigarettes were tobacco devices, effectively scuttling the FDA's case in December of 2010.
Starting the next month, according to Kiklas, sales began skyrocketing.
Now, the industry estimates that four million Americans use the product, and put sales in 2012 at $400 million. Kiklas anticipates that figure doubling by the end of this year.
You probably remember the first time you ever saw someone use one of these things. You saw the cigarette-looking thing in the guy's hand, you saw the glow, and you saw the guy blow out what looked like smoke. You were indignant, saying under your breath, "Hey, douchebag, there's no smoking in here." Then you saw the server go over and tell him to stop, and he patiently explained what it was. You overheard, and then you totally wanted to try one.
Nowadays, it's commonplace. You can sit in a restaurant like The Brook and see someone take a pull on an e-cigarette, and it's not really any big deal.
"I feel like I thought people would complain," said David Greener, a manager at The Brook on S. Peoria Avenue. "Because it looks like smoke's pouring out, but nobody ever really complains. I haven't seen any drama at all."
Then again, some e-cig aficionados like Kardos try to avoid any chance of bothering anyone by treating the e-cigarette like a real one.
"I use the same rules that apply to cigarette smoking," he said. "Like if there's no smoking, I don't whip out the e-cig."
This is probably the most polite approach, and perhaps this is why there really don't seem to be that many issues.
"Nobody seems to care about it going on around them," Greener said. "It's like people are used to them now."
Kiklas is quick to assert that TVECA makes no health claims of any kind. He said that the only thing TVECA claims is that e-cigarettes are just an alternative nicotine delivery system.
"We make no claims of smoking cessation or that it's safer or anything, just that it's a logical alternative," he said. "Every one of our ingredients has been FDA approved. You can draw your conclusions, and you make your decisions."
Gil Guptil works part-time at Flavor Vapors in Shawnee, and is in the process of opening his own shop in Moore later this year.
He drops some anecdotal evidence of the benefits of e-cigs.
"We have a doctor who comes in to get cards from us to give to his patients to help them stop smoking," he said. "And we'll have customers who come in and say, 'Made it another week without a cigarette,' when they come in for a refill."
As e-cigarettes continue to grab market share and their popularity rises daily, Kiklas said that people are seeing them as a safer choice.
"I think people are looking at the technology and saying, 'This is really a better alternative to traditional cigarettes,'" he said.
At the CDC, there's concern about young people taking up the vaping habit, however, with the center calling for research on the impacts of e-cigarette marketing.
In a statement, Tim McAfee, director of the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health, put it his way: "If large numbers of adult smokers become users of both traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes -- rather than using e-cigarettes to quit cigarettes completely -- the net public health effect could be quite negative."
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