Walking outside our uptown Oakland office the other day, I passed a young, pregnant woman who was smoking an e-cigarette while waiting at a bus stop. She was chatting with an older woman there, and I overheard her remark that she didn’t think that her vaping habit would pose any risk to her baby.
I’m not surprised that people believe that e-cigarettes are safe. But new research from our organization has shown that it’s not safe to vape. Our review of nearly 100 actual products is the first to show, through testing mimicking real-world use, that 90% of the companies whose products were tested had at least one product that produced high levels of one or both of the cancer-causing chemicals formaldehyde and acetaldehyde. Cancer is not the only health hazard linked to exposure to these chemicals: both, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, also cause genetic damage, birth defects, and reduced fertility.
E-cigarettes have only been in wide use since 2007, and most people have heard little information about the risks. By contrast, we are all at risk of being duped by the massive pro-vaping marketing campaign backed by Big Tobacco. That’s right: the big cigarette companies own the largest e-cigarette companies, and they aggressively market their risky products as harmless, just as they claimed for decades that tobacco was safe.
Nicotine: the fix is in
In my Mom’s generation, many women believed that cigarettes were safe and that smoking presented no special risks to pregnant women. But even then many women were not so lucky: as early as 1961, doctors found links between an increased risk of stillbirths and smoking, and more recently, a review of 50 years of data found that smoking during pregnancy significantly increased the risk of birth defects, including missing or deformed limbs, clubfoot, skull defects, and others.
But vaping isn’t smoking, says the e-cigarette industry. Their products, they claim, are a “safe alternative” to smoking, producing nothing more than harmless “water vaper.”
In fact, e-cigarettes and other vaping products typically contain nicotine, a chemical known to cause serious reproductive health problems. While tobacco contains many other chemicals, animal studies have linked nicotine alone to fertility problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, respiratory problems and other health issues. We found many brands of e-cigarettes and vaping products with no warning labels to let women know that the products pose a threat if used during pregnancy.
Where there’s smoke…
The recent testing by CEH is especially troubling, given that studies show that vaping may be just as addictive as smoking traditional cigarettes. Most worrisome is the rapid uptake of e-cigarette use among teens and young people: their use of vaping products tripled between 2013 and 2014, and experts warn that nicotine may cause lasting harm to adolescents’ developing brains. According to Dr. Stanton Glantz of Stanford University’s Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, numerous studies suggest that the use of e-cigarettes may lead many young people to tobacco smoking.
But let’s say that our bus-stop waiting pregnant woman has a healthy, happy baby. An accidental poisoning by her e-cigarettes still looms as a serious health risk. Poison control centers are seeing skyrocketing rates of nicotine poisoning incidents: nationwide, the number of cases of child poisoning linked to e-liquids jumped to 1,351 in 2013, a 300 percent increase from 2012. Kids are drawn to the products, which are often marketed in candy or dessert flavors, and usually sold without child-safe packaging. Last year we saw the tragic results of this reckless marketing: a one year-old child died after swallowing liquid nicotine.
CEH action for truth in vaping
CEH is now taking on the vaping industry: our legal action is challenging their sales of these dangerous products, since warnings about these chemicals are required by California law. Tobacco companies have been barred from marketing to teens and using child-centered flavors and packaging for years – we aim to hold the e-cigarette makers to similar standards. And we are demanding that the companies institute child-safe packaging, to end the threat of deadly poisonings from their products.
Following years of educational campaigns, tobacco use dropped dramatically after social pressures made cigarette smoking less acceptable and more cumbersome. Most young people, and especially pregnant women, now know about the dangers from tobacco. We owe it to today’s young people to be clear about the dangers of e-cigarettes now, before we allow the phony “safety” claims of this toxic industry to take hold.