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Letter: County board needs to show strong leadership

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Are e-cigarettes harmful or helpful? That is the question that faces the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners. They will vote on amending the current tobacco ordinance to include e-cigarettes. This is an important vote for the county but also for the whole state as Beltrami County is seen a leader for the Minnesota Clean Indoor Act.

E-cigarettes are battery-operated electronic delivery devices (EDD) that look like regular tobacco cigarettes. Users of e-cigarettes inhale nicotine vapor, referred to as “vaping.” Also included in the vapor are other chemicals such as diethylene glycol plus any number of possible fruit and candy flavors. The end result is the delivery of nicotine, the addictive component of real cigarettes, to the brain just like real cigarettes.

Manufacturers claim that e-cigarettes are a safe alternative to conventional cigarettes. Supporters of e-cigarettes also claim that “vaping” helps smokers quit conventional tobacco use. However, there are no evidenced-based studies to support either of these claims. The Food and Drug Agency did try to classify e-cigarettes as a drug delivery device but was challenged in court and lost. Therefore, there have been no FDA clinical trials to test the assertion that e-cigarettes are effective in getting smokers to quit using cigarettes. The FDA does not regulate the devices themselves to ensure quality control or the liquids that are vaporized. Users are playing “Russian Roulette” with what they are breathing.

We know that nicotine is strong addictive drug. Nicotine crosses the placenta and adversely affects fetal growth. Nicotine is also a dangerous drug for those who have had recent heart attacks. Do you want to sit next to someone in a restaurant and breathe their second hand vapor or other (possibly illegal) chemicals?

The commissioners, sitting as the County Board of Health, need to take a strong leadership not only for Beltrami County but also for the state. They need to:

● Close the sampling loophole for nicotine.

● License e-cigarettes the same as other tobacco products.

● Include e-cigarettes in the county’s tobacco ordinance.

E-cigarettes may prove to be a useful tool to control tobacco use for the 20 percent of the population that smokes. However, e-cigarettes may also be a gateway device for children and young adults to a life-long nicotine addiction. For now, the wise course is to treat e-cigarettes as a tobacco product and regulate them as conventional cigarettes.

Ralph D. Morris, MD, MPH

Chair and Medical Officer

Beltrami County Health and Human Services Advisory Board

Bemidji

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