E-Cigarettes Gaining Popularity in Boston

Shops are asking for permits in record numbers.

One of these things is not like the others. Cigarettes image via Shutterstock.

One of these things is not like the others. Cigarettes image via Shutterstock.

E-cigarettes, which are tobacco-less, electronic devices in which users inhale a nicotine-laced vapor, are showing up in more and more Boston stores. The Globe reports:

Nikysha Harding, director of the Boston Public Health Commission’s Tobacco Prevention and Control Program, said the city has issued 61 permits to sell the battery-operated devices since March, more than five times the number awarded during the same period last year. In June alone, the city issued 28 permits, compared with the three her office gave out in June 2012.

“The Lorillard reps have been coming into stores and giving them free samples, or saying this is a new product,” Harding said. “Some of the store owners have put samples out not realizing they needed a permit.’’

E-cigarettes are surrounded in controversy. They are not regulated or approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA website states that, “As the safety and efficacy of e-cigarettes have not been fully studied, consumers of e-cigarette products currently have no way of knowing: whether e-cigarettes are safe for their intended use; how much nicotine or other potentially harmful chemicals are being inhaled during use; and if there are any benefits associated with using these products.” Additionally, the FDA says that e-cigarettes can potentially hook young people to nicotine and lead them to conventional cigarettes, which are known to cause disease and lead to premature death.

Proponents say that it’s healthier than a cigarette because you aren’t getting the 599 or so disgusting ingredients and carcinogens that are found in a traditional cigarette. And ok, American Spirit smokers, your cigarette is “natural” but you are still smoking tobacco and you are hooked on nicotine, a drug that could probably be considered the most dangerous drug of them all. With an e-cigarette you are “only” getting nicotine, PEG (what theater smoke is made of), and some sort of flavoring. E-cigs are “green” because there is no cigarette butt for the smoker to carelessly litter the street with. Proponents also say that the main market for e-cigs is people trying to quit traditional cigarettes and the college crowd.

I can see this as a good thing. I was a smoker once. (Yes, confession, I smoked for almost a decade. I also taught Pilates while smoking. In fact, you’d be surprised how many people in the fitness industry were out back puffing away with me. New story idea: “Squats and Smoke: The Fitness Industry’s Dirty Secret”. I quit cold turkey almost five years ago. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and now I feel like I can do anything.) If I was still smoking would I try this? Probably.

But with a big investment from Big Tobacco (warning: conspiracy theory ahead) what if e-cigs are just a passing fad and now you have all these people who never smoked before addicted to nicotine? What are they going to do? Buy your cigarettes, of course. Now that’s how you increase sales in a dying industry. But seriously, after looking at the facts, it would seem like e-cigs are the lesser of two evils. That is of course, if it’s marketed to adults, rather than using Big Tobacco’s way which is hook ’em early and you’ll have customers for life.

D.J. Wilson, tobacco control director at the Massachusetts Municipal Association, tells the Globe:

“When you look at this,” said Wilson, referring to a strawberry-flavored, red-and-black tie-dyed e-cigarette with a red filter, “it would be hard to imagine an adult smoker who is weaning himself off tobacco would go for this.”

Regardless of where you stand on e-cigs, you can’t miss the commercials now with handsome Hollywood D-lister Stephen Dorff telling us, “We’re all adults here. It’s time we take our freedom back.”

What do you think? Passing fad, here to stay, or please go away?