Up In Smoke
Stephen Brandon of Fredonia was a smoker for 30 years, and quit by using an electronic cigarette.
Brandon, who works in Jamestown, stopped into Big Puff’s Vapor Store on Friday to purchase a small vial of flavored juice to refill his personal vaporizer. He is one of hundreds in the area – and millions nationwide – who have used vaporizing devices to quit, and the customer base at Big Puff’s continues to grow.
Big Puff’s liquids are made in-house, and contain nicotine, flavoring and what employees call “PGVG,” propylene glycol and vegetable glycerine.
Propylene glycol is used as a solvent in the food, plastics and perfume industries, while vegetable glycerine is used as an agent in cosmetics, toothpaste and other household items.
The combination of four chemicals vaporized and inhaled seems like a better alternative to the 599 additives approved by the federal government for use in cigarette production.
“I challenge anyone to bring forth someone who has been harmed by the vapor of an e-cigarette,” said Michael Martinelli, owner of Big Puff’s Vapor Store. “I’d be interested if I saw any type of proof that the vapor causes harm. I’d say it’s helping people.”
The Food and Drug Administration released draft regulations for e-cigarettes in April.
Although the regulations do not openly ban the refillable devices that are preferred by users, they impose a costly registration and approval process for distributors.
According to the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association, the FDA’s regulations could eliminate small companies like Big Puff’s, ensuring that only a few large companies who mass produce small and disposable products would be able to afford the necessary filings.
Additionally, while the regulations do not immediately ban the variety of popular flavors for e-cigarette liquid, they signal an intention to do so in the future.
“I think a light FDA regulation would be fair,” Martinelli said. “They could simply list the ingredients, maybe have a label warning that says nicotine is addictive, and to not market to children. I believe that’s fair, but I don’t think anything further than that would be necessary.”
Several bills in the New York State Senate and Assembly have been introduced to address the impacts of these products on public health and safety.
A Senate Health Committee hearing was held on Monday, where several health professionals spoke about the impact of increased public use of electronic cigarettes and liquid nicotine, along with potentially harmful effects.
“I’m not sure why there’s so much animosity against the e-cigarette, which uses virtually the same properties as a nicotine patch or nicotine gum,” said Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Jamestown. “Are there advantages of using an e-cig over a regular cigarette? Certainly. Is it completely without risk? No. It’s a balancing act we go through as a society to evaluate the risks and benefits, and we need to balance those risks and benefits.”
According to Dr. Harlan Juster, director of the Bureau of Tobacco Control for the state Department of Health, no study has shown that quitting is enhanced by the use of e-cigarettes.
“Their use may make it even harder to quit cigarette use,” he said.
Several bills have been introduced in the state Senate and Assembly, but have yet to be brought to the floor for debate.
One of the bills makes smoking e-cigarettes in public places consistent with the provisions of the Clean Indoor Air Act, which was passed in 2003.
“This bill is going to be more controversial,” Goodell said, adding that under the public health law, smoking is defined as burning a lighted cigar, cigarette, pipe or device containing tobacco. “Of course, an e-cigarette doesn’t fall within that definition because it doesn’t involve the burning of tobacco. There is substantial debate in the Assembly over whether this type of restriction will ultimately improve health by reducing the exposure to residual nicotine, or whether it hurts public health by eliminating one method to reduce the ingestion of tars and smoke particles and gradually quit the addiction completely.”
Another bill would require retailers to register with the Health Department in order to check for compliance, but has yet to be officially voted on.
In Martinelli’s eyes, the fact that all of Big Puff’s liquids are made in-house is a major plus.
“The fact that you can get custom juices every time is a bonus for the customers, but the best part about using a vaporizer or e-cigarette is that you get to control the nicotine level, whereas these tobacco companies have you fixed on a set level of nicotine,” he said. “That does not give you the ability to control how much nicotine is in the cigarette. Since we make it, we know exactly how much of everything is in each juice.”
New York state has the highest cigarette tax rate in the country, $4.35 per pack, which accounts for nearly half of the cost of the pack.
According to the Department of Health, low-income smokers spend an average of 23.6 percent of their annual income on cigarettes, compared to 2.2 percent of smokers in households making more than $60,000 annually.
Customers need to be 18 years or older to buy electronic cigarettes. Big Puff’s Vapor Store can be found at 1310 Washington St. in Jamestown.