America’s war on smoking keeps up with the times by focusing on the threat of e-cigarettes

As Northwest Indiana approaches the Great American Smokeout on Nov. 19, the smoking debate has shifted from old-fashioned cigarettes to electronic ones.

Daniel Dyer, senior communication major, sees the value in electronic cigarettes. The father of two young daughters, he credits the switch to vape products in kicking a 15-year, pack-a-day smoking habit. 

“I can’t stand the smell of cigarette smoke. It immediately, like, will bother me,” he said. 

But things have changed since he began to use e-cigarettes. 

“I haven’t had a cough in five years,” he said. “Everything would taste like an ashtray. And now, it’s like, wow, this steak is really good.”

About half of the 8 million adults who use e-cigarettes switched from traditional cigarettes. 

That worries Laura Mielke, a senior communication major and e-cigarette user. 

“I feel like society views vaping as not as bad and that’s why it’s more common,” she said. “In all reality, you’re still breathing crap into your lungs that you shouldn’t.”

Mielke is right. 

The American Cancer Society states that e-cigarettes and e-cigarette vapor may contain volatile organic compounds that can damage the liver, kidneys, nervous system, or worse, cause cancer. Formaldehyde, a chemical commonly used as an industrial disinfectant, can form if e-liquids overheat or fail to reach the heating element when inhaling, resulting in what is referred to as a “dry puff.” 

Critics of e-cigarettes point to studies that show they are just as harmful as traditional cigarettes. One, published last month by the National Academy of Sciences, showed that exposure to e-cigarette smoke caused mice to develop cancer in their lungs and precancerous growth in their bladders. 

A May 2020 survey published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, determined that daily e-cigarette users were five times more likely to test positive for the coronavirus. 

“As a nurse, I am totally against vaping,” said Sandy Behrens, center director for the Northwest Indiana Area Health Education Center. She recommends against e-cigarettes. 

So does the ACS, sponsor of the annual Smokeout, which has contributed to a serious decline in smoking.  Between 2008 and 2017, the cigarette smoking rate among adults aged 18 years and over fell by 36%, according to federal data. 

Rates of e-cigarette use, on the other hand, increased. That worries Kathy Marks, owner of K&D Smoke Shop located just a few miles from the Hammond campus. 

“I don’t support [vaping products].  … I think they’re totally unhealthy,” she said, adding that she is worried that e-cigarette users will transition to smoking traditional cigarettes. 

“I don’t want to say it’s a gateway,” she said. “But I think it’s a gateway.”