E-Cigs: Effective Smoking Cessation or Gateway to Teen Nicotine Addiction?

An article that was published in The New York Times yesterday, “Young Using E-Cigarettes to Smoke, Study Finds,” has brought up an interesting conversation about e-cigarettes and young people. The study, which was led by Professor Stanton Glantz at the University of California, showed that most young people who smoke e-cigarettes are more likely to smoke regular cigarettes and less likely to quit smoking than those who do not use e-cigarettes.

This study, however, has received some criticism from others in the medical community, such as Dr. Michael Siegal, professor of community health sciences at Boston University. “I could equally argue that what this study shows is that people who are heavy smokers are attracted to e-cigarettes because they are looking to quit,” he told Reuters.

For public health professionals, this is a particularly interesting and important discussion. Should e-cigarettes play a role in smoking cessation? Does encouraging e-cigarette use to help adults quit smoking come at the expense of teens who may become addicted to nicotine through their use?

While e-cigarettes lack many of the chemicals found in regular cigarettes, tests have shown that they still contain some harmful chemicals such as diethylene glycol (a toxic substance that can be fatal if ingested) and nitrosamines (carcinogens found in tobacco) in addition to nicotine.

In public health, we always strive to find the best methods to help individuals who are trying to quit smoking. These often include some types of nicotine-replacement therapy such as patches or gum. Though these products do contain nicotine, the overall perception seems to be that it’s clear these products are only meant to help smokers fight cravings for cigarettes. We don’t often hear about teens who have never smoked picking up nicotine gum or patches and becoming addicted.

So why are e-cigarettes different?

According to the CDC, e-cigarette use among teen doubled from 2011 to 2012 and 75% of teens who used e-cigarettes also smoked regular cigarettes. Even more alarming, is the perception among young people that similar products, such as e-hookahs and vape pens, which are marketed differently from e-cigarettes, are less harmful.

“E-cigarettes are for people trying to quit smoking; hookah pens are for people doing tricks, like blowing smoke rings,” a high school senior told the New York Times. Though the article explains that “beneath the surface, they are virtually identical to e-cigarettes, right down to their addictive nicotine and unregulated swirl of other chemicals,” it is apparent that the young people who use these products do not view them in the same way.

Is marketing the big problem here? If nicotine replacement therapy products came in fruity or dessert flavors and were enclosed in vibrant packaging, would teens find them more appealing? If nicotine gum was marketed with cool or sexy images like these…

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 …instead of straightforward messages like these…

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…would we see an uptick in the number of teens using these products?

As the e-cigarette industry continues to grow and evolve, it is becoming more evident that we really don’t know just what role these products play in helping or hurting people’s health. The subject becomes even murkier as more cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago, restrict the use of e-cigarettes in public places.

Currently, the FDA only regulates e-cigarettes that are marketed for therapeutic purposes. According to the FDA website, “the FDA intends to issue a proposed rule extending FDA’s tobacco product authorities…to include other products like e-cigarettes.”


Protect Your Home from Carbon Monoxide

In winter time, the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is higher than any other time of year because people use fireplaces, portable heaters and other fuel burning devices inside their homes to stay warm. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can be fatal if it is inhaled.

Here are some tips to help you and your family stay safe and prevent carbon monoxide from entering your home:

  • Make sure you have working CO detectors installed in your home. Many people don’t realize that CO detectors only last about 5-7 years before the sensors are no longer functional. Be sure to replace your CO detectors if they are more than 5 years old.
  • Don’t leave your car running in the garage. It’s nice to get into a pre-warmed car when you leave for work on a freezing day but if your garage is attached to your house, keeping your car running in there can be dangerous, even if you leave the garage door open.
  • Get your chimney and heating vents checked and serviced by a qualified technician each year. A blocked chimney will send CO and other toxic fumes into your home. It is also important to make sure that exhaust vents don’t have snow or ice blocking them.
  • Have appliances installed by professionals according to the manufacturers’ instructions and local building codes.
  • Follow the instructions in owners’ manuals when making any adjustments to fuel-burning devices.
  • Never use charcoal indoors.
  • Make sure any indoor fuel-burning devices are vented to the outside.

What to do if you think you have symptoms of CO poisoning

Symptoms of CO poisoning include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. Inhaling CO can cause loss of consciousness and death.

  • Open windows and doors for ventilation, turn off heaters, ovens and other fuel-burning appliances, and leave your home immediately.
  • Call 9-1-1 from a neighbor’s home and report your symptoms.
  • Stay out of your house until first responders tell you it’s safe to re-enter.
  • If your CO detector goes off and you are not experiencing symptoms, press the reset button. If the alarm continues to go off, leave your home

For more information on how you can prevent CO poisoning, visit the CDC website.

Be Prepared: Winter Storm Nemo

Winter Storm Nemo is on its way and is expected to drop over a foot of snow in Connecticut. Make sure you and your family are safe by following these tips:

1. Download the Red Cross Winter Storm Safety Checklist. This will help you plan what food and supplies you need. The checklist is a useful quick guide for what do before, during and after the storm.

2. Make sure you have: rock salt or other products to melt ice on walkways, sand to improve traction, snow shovels and other snow removal equipment, sufficient heating fuel and plenty of clothes and blankets.

3. Make a family emergency plan. This will help you keep track of important information such as emergency contacts, designated meeting places, social security numbers and medical needs.

4. Stay updated on weather alerts. Listen to a NOAA Weather Radio, local news or the Weather Channel for critical information from the National Weather Service.

5. Minimize travel. Don’t leave your home if you don’t need to.

6. Keep your pets inside. Move livestock to sheltered areas with accessible drinking water that won’t freeze.

7. Check your car: antifreeze levels, battery and ignition system, brakes and brake fluid, exhaust pipes, fuel and air filters, heater and defroster, lights and hazard lights, oil, thermostat, windshield wipers and fluid, tires.

8. Keep an emergency kit in your car with booster cables, warm clothes and blankets, a shovel, a flashlight, batteries, first aid kit, road salt and sand, water and non-perishable food.

9. Winterize your home: cover windows with plastic from the inside to keep cold air out, clear rain gutters, repair roof leaks, cut away tree branches that could fall on your house, make sure fuel-burning equipment is vented to the outside and that vents are not blocked by snow and ice.

10. Prevent Carbon Monoxide in your home: make sure you have functioning CO detectors installed in your home. If they are more than five years old, they should be replaced. Never use camp stoves, grills, generators or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or coal-burning devices inside the house.

For more information, visit Ready.gov.

The Truth About Flu Vaccine

According to the CT Department of Public Health, the flu is now widespread in our state. With all the news stories out there about people scrambling to get flu shots, there is a lot of misinformation going around regarding the safety of the flu vaccine.

At Ledge Light Health District, we thought this was the perfect time to start up a new blog and use our first post to set the record straight about flu vaccines.

Lately, we have been seeing a lot of comments on news stories about the latest flu outbreak that say something like this: “Every time I’ve gotten a flu shot, I’ve gotten the flu. It must be the shot that gave me the flu!”

The flu shot does not give you the flu. A flu shot contains an inactivated (aka dead) flu virus, so it cannot infect your body with the flu. According to the CDC, there are several reasons why someone could experience flu-like symptoms after getting a flu shot:

1. “People may be exposed to an influenza virus shortly before getting vaccinated or during the two-week period that it takes the body to gain protection after getting vaccinated.” That’s right; it takes two weeks for the flu vaccine to start protecting your body against the flu. As much as we’d love to be able to get a flu shot gives us instant protection from the flu, that’s just not the way it works.

2. “People may become ill from other (non-flu) viruses that circulate during the flu season, which can also cause flu-like symptoms (such as rhinovirus).” People often assume they have the flu when they are experiencing symptoms like fever, chills, vomiting, or sore throat during flu season. The only way to find out for sure if you have the flu is to see your doctor.

3. “A person may be exposed to an influenza virus that is not included in the seasonal flu vaccine. There are many different influenza viruses that circulate every year. The flu shot protects against the 3 viruses that research suggests will be most common.” This year, the 3 strains included in the vaccine (H1N1, H3N2, Influenza B) are a good match for the most common strains that are going around.

4. “Protection provided by influenza vaccination can vary widely, based in part on health and age of the person getting vaccinated. In general, the flu vaccine works best among young healthy adults and older children. Some older people and people with certain chronic illnesses may develop less immunity after vaccination.” This season’s flu vaccine is reported to be about 60% effective against the flu, which means there is a chance you could still get the flu after getting a shot, but your symptoms would be greatly reduced.

So, while it is possible you could get sick sometime after getting a flu shot, it is not possible to get the flu from a flu shot. The most common side effect of a flu shot is soreness at the injection site. The CDC says rare symptoms such as fever, muscle pain, and feelings of discomfort or weakness can occur soon after getting a flu shot and last 1-2 days.

For more information about the seasonal flu vaccine, visit the CDC website.