July 30, 2015, GROTON, Conn. (NNS) — Electronic cigarettes are having a tremendous, and potentially unsafe, impact on youth as well as current adult smokers hoping to quit, according to health and safety professionals at Naval Submarine Base New London (SUBASE).
Enticing for Youth
“E-cigs,” as they are commonly called, as well as personal vaporizers (PVs) are essentially electronic nicotine delivery systems providing battery-powered doses of nicotine and other additives to the user in an aerosol.
“We’re seeing a shift in what the view of smoking is becoming,” said Lt. Cmdr. Michael Sracic, a medical doctor and the Public Health Department Head at Naval Branch Health Clinic Groton on SUBASE. “It’s been called the ‘renormalization’ of smoking behavior, and it’s due to public misconception from advertising out there of what this product actually is.”
Arguments over the target demographic of the advertising aside, the flavors of electronic cigarettes are very enticing to a youth market said Sracic and “should be a major concern for all of us, especially parents.”
Results from a national survey of United States students in grades 6 to 12 found that 44 percent of users of e-cigarettes intended to smoke conventional cigarettes, compared with 22 percent of never users.
“While this survey does not prove that e-cigarette use increases the desire to smoke conventional cigarettes, it does raise concerns that e-cigarettes may be a gateway to nicotine dependence in our youth,” said Sracic. “This would greatly push back the efforts from the ‘smoke free’ campaign in the past decade.”
Moreover, a study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that an increasing number of calls related to e-cigarette use are being made to United States poison control centers.
The study highlights that from a low of one such call per month to poison control centers in 2010, some 215 calls per month were made 2014. That is an increase from less than one percent to nearly 42 percent of all smoking-related calls received by poison control centers.
“The nicotine in e-cigarette fluid poses a huge potential for accidental ingestion, especially by children,” said Sracic. “The typical 5 mL vial of e-cigarette liquid refill may contain a nicotine concentration of 100 mg/vial. The known lethal dose of nicotine is about 10 mg in children. E-cigarettes pose a critical risk in the hands of a child.”
Promoted as Helpful to Adults
Of course, beyond the marketing of youth enticing flavors, e-cigs have been promoted as a “safer alternative” and a “helpful tool to quit smoking,” notes Sracic.
“There is no evidence that shows these products are safe to use over the long term or provide a physical difference in kicking a smoking addiction,” said Sracic.
A recent study published by the University of Rochester and conducted by one of the university’s professors of Environmental Medicine in its School of Medicine and Dentistry, suggests that e-cigarettes could be a toxic replacement for tobacco products.
The study purports that inhaled vapors from an e-cig may contain heavy metals and other possible carcinogens from the e-cigarette and its heating element.
While not associated with the study, Sracic urges similar caution.
“Until more is known about the long-term effects of e-cigs, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Cancer Association recommend steering clear of these devices,” advised Sracic.
Considered Similar by Navy
With so much still unknown about e-cigarettes and their impacts, the Navy and SUBASE view them fairly straightforwardly, points out SUBASE Safety Director Edgar Martinez.
“With regulations responding to studies that have linked cigarette use, smokeless tobacco use, and second-hand smoke to health problems and poor fitness, the Department of Defense and Navy have tightened rules around tobacco use and sales across the service and fleet,” noted Martinez. “In the 1990s, the Navy designated that smoking areas be set up away from non-smokers in offices, surface ships, and submarines. And in 2010, the Submarine Force banned smoking in submarines outright.”
Today, SECNAVINST 5100.13E, the Navy and Marine Corps Tobacco Policy, outlines the service’s do’s and don’ts.
“With a few exceptions, such as personal housing units, tobacco use inside facilities is controlled by the tobacco policy,” said Martinez. “Currently, the Navy views tobacco products as cigarettes, cigars, tobacco, and smokeless tobacco. But as the FDA is seeking to extend its definition of a tobacco product to include electronic cigarettes, the Navy is treating them similarly.”
Thus, SUBASE treats the use of e-cigarettes in its buildings the same as with any other tobacco product, states Martinez. All use of e-cigarettes shall be in designated smoking areas, at least 50 feet away from buildings.
On the waterfront, submarines homeported at SUBASE currently follow guidance from the Submarine Atmosphere Control Manual. At this time, the manual authorizes the use of electronic cigarettes aboard a submarine only in designated areas upon the discretion of the commanding officer.
However, Commander, Submarine Force Atlantic (COMSUBLANT) is soon awaiting an official recommendation from the Submarine Atmosphere Advisory Board (SAAB), according to Capt. Matthew J. Hickey, COMSUBLANT Force Medical Officer.
Materials brought onboard submarines, such as e-cigs, can impact the enclosed atmosphere of a submarine, and the SAAB plays a key role in reviewing and categorizing those materials as well as determining whether on board monitoring or restrictions are needed.
The board is comprised of representatives from undersea medical, toxicological, and occupational health activities with technical consultation from the submarine engineering community.
For Sracic and Martinez, the FDA, DOD, and Navy guidance on tobacco and e-cigarettes all highlight one thing: potential health and safety risks.
“Whether it’s a middle-aged chronic smoker trying to quit; a young teen drawn in by flavors and advertising; or a Sailor looking for a supposed ‘safer alternative,’ e-cigarette users have to understand that misconceptions are everywhere,” said Sracic. “The choice not to ‘vape’ may be the best choice of all.”