Jun 26, 2014 12:27 PM
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - Quinton Bailey is tight-lipped about the day he smoked his first cigarette.
But his nicotine addiction began well before the age of 16, he says.
By his early teens, Bailey was addicted to nicotine. Shortly after turning 18 years old, Bailey bought an electronic cigarette from the Hydra Stix kiosk in the College Mall, in hopes of ending his addiction.
In the first six months that Bailey used his e-cig, he decreased his nicotine intake from 3.6 to 2.4 mg.
"From how long I've done it, I've noticed that I can actually breathe a lot easier," Bailey told The Herald-Times, adding that he hopes to eventually knock his nicotine level down to zero. "Anyone who has an e-cig wants to quit."
E-cigs are helping people such as Bailey quit smoking, but they also are raising alarms among some in the scientific and medical communities. The reason: rapidly increasing popularity of the product with teens.
The percentage of middle and high school students who said they had tried e-cigarettes doubled from 2011 to 2012, according to the National Tobacco Survey. As of 2012, more than 1.78 million teens said they used them. The increased use of e-cigs counters the news in the CDC's 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey of high school students that cigarette smoking in that age group has fallen to 15.7 percent, the lowest level ever recorded.
An e-cig looks a lot like a real cigarette, but does not contain the same chemicals and toxins found in traditional tobacco products. In fact, flavorless e-cigs contain only two chemicals: water and nicotine, which are vaporized to form an aerosol mist. The user puffs on the vapor to get a hit of the addictive nicotine, but without other noxious substances found in regular cigarettes. E-cigs do not emit secondhand smoke, but instead an odorless vapor that dissipates into the air within seconds.
The lack of toxins and lower nicotine levels make e-cigarettes less of a threat to public health than regular cigarettes, said Erica Eason, an employee of 4-20, a store that sells them.
"E-cigs will be more appealing to younger kids because they taste better than regular cigarettes," Eason said. "But they are really different, with how much you're going to crave them. I would definitely fear regular cigarettes more."
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has little regulation and control over e-cigs, but Eason and other local sellers of the product said they expect that to change soon.
The World Health Organization received a letter recently signed by 129 global researchers and doctors, calling for worldwide control and regulation of e-cigarettes.
Dr. Robert Proctor, a professor at Stanford University and an Indiana University alumnus, said he signed the letter because he is concerned about the lack of FDA regulation of e-cigs.
"You can basically put anything you want into e-cigs, including all kinds of youth-attracting kiddie flavorings (such as) bubble-gum and pizza," Proctor said. "Dog food is more carefully regulated."
In addition to regulating e-cigs, Proctor hopes the letter will encourage the FDA to mandate the reduction of the nicotine content in conventional cigarettes, rendering them nonaddictive and noninhalable.
"There is no more pressing public health issue than cigarettes, and nicotine is by far the world's most widely abused drug," Proctor said. "Cigarettes in the U.S. alone kill nearly half a million people per year, and users generally find out too late how difficult it is to quit, not realizing that nicotine is as addictive as heroin or cocaine."
Smoker and e-cig user Lee St. John began selling e-cigs at Hydra Stix for the same reason - to help the world quit smoking, he said.
"I hope that we eventually go out of business," St. John said. "I don't want anybody to be addicted to nicotine."
In less than two months, St. John cut his 15-year-long nicotine addiction down from 3.6 to 1.1 mg per cigarette. Even though he and Proctor agree on the evils of nicotine, St. John is hopeful that the government does not try to over-regulate sales of e-cigs, since they are so beneficial to smokers who are trying to quit.
According to Forbes, e-cig sales have increased from $20 million in 2008 to $1 billion in 2013. Last year, cigarette companies lost 1 percent of their sales, Bailey said with pride.
"I want tobacco companies to fall and burn like Chernobyl," St. John said. "I'm a hippie. I want all humans to be happy. I don't want to see anyone addicted to nicotine."
Still, the 1.78 million minors who are trying e-cigs are a huge concern for researchers.
"The increased use of e-cigarettes by teens is deeply troubling," said U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden, in a September 2013 press release. "Nicotine is a highly addictive drug. Many teens who start with e-cigarettes may be condemned to struggling with a lifelong addiction to nicotine and conventional cigarettes."
With the exception of his grandmother, Bailey said, everyone in his family has smoked around him. In the house, in the car, in his own room.
Bailey's story illustrates the dangers of exposing children to any drug.
"I'm only 19, and my body has the shakes that someone who has been smoking American Spirits for 10 years would have," Bailey said. "That's what it's like. And it sucks."