Dutchess County health officials are expressing concerns about what they see as an increase in the use of e-cigarettes by young people. And they are especially concerned about refill cartridges because of toxins.
Dr. Lobsang Lhungay is president of the Dutchess County Board of Health. He says it is not known how much of any toxins is contained in the refill cartridges sold for electronic cigarettes. He says unregulated nicotine levels also mean unregulated chemicals.
“The toxins, they’re first and foremost, the nicotine itself is toxic,” Dr. Lhungay says. “And number two is, the impurities or whatever sort of things they’re putting for flavor or things like that, we really don’t know what they’re putting.”
He says e-cigarettes have a place in helping adults quit smoking, but with more adults taking to e-cigarettes, the higher the risk and attraction, he says, to kids, and the more refill cartridges being sold.
“And it is also not childproof, thereby a small child may be able to ingest, and that has been found because a lot of poison centers are getting calls from these things,” Dr. Llunghay says.
Dr. Llungay points to a report earlier this year from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found the number of calls to poison centers involving e-cigarette liquids containing nicotine rose from one per month in September 2010 to 215 per month in February 2014. The number of calls per month involving conventional cigarettes did not show a similar increase during the same time frame. In addition, more than one-half of the calls to poison centers due to e-cigarettes involved children under age 5, and about 42 percent of the poison calls involved people age 20 and older.
Julie Woessner is president of CASAA, the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association.
“We don’t leave alcohol around for toddlers to get into,” Woessner says. “We shouldn’t be leaving our e-cigarettes, liquids, laying around for toddlers to get a hold of. It’s just kind of common-sense, basic safety issues.”
E-cigarettes produce vapor. They do not burn tobacco. Instead, they heat liquid containing nicotine derived from tobacco. Dr. Kari Reiber is the Dutchess County Health Commissioner.
“My biggest concern is that we are now, it’s taken us 50 years to reduce the amount of smoking in the community,” Dr. Reiber. “And now with this product, smoking behavior is again being encouraged. And that’s the hardest thing to stop when you quit smoking.”
Dr. Llungay says his board is figuring out how it should exercise control over the way e-cigarettes and refill cartridges are sold and will present a plan to the state legislature.
“We need to recommend to the legislature how we would like to have some kind of control so that younger kids cannot have access to it,” Dr. Llunghay. “Is it the age so that we can put a limit or do we need to put, should be away from certain areas and they should be sort of locked up. So we are trying to look into this, different ways to try and control it. So once we have something concrete we will be recommending to the legislature so we can try and control it at least in our county.”
Woessner says CASAA supports certain safety measures.
“We support basic protections like childproof packaging, things like that,” Woessner says. “We don’t object to keeping them out of the reach of children in stores, like behind the counter. But what we object to is things like hiding them.”
And she has another concern.
“We do worry a little bit though when we talk about childproof packaging and stuff,” says Woessner. “To the extent that the local jurisdictions start doing that as opposed to that being done on a federal level, from a consumer standpoint, it’s not that great because it makes it more difficult for products to cross state lines and county lines and all of that because they have different packaging requirements.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has proposed a new rule that would extend the agency’s tobacco authority to regulate such products as e-cigarettes. There is no timeline to finalize the regulations.