The VCU Center for the Study of Tobacco Products will present on adolescent tobacco product consumption on April 8-9, at the Crowne Plaza Richmond Downtown Hotel.
Thomas Eissenberg, a tenured VCU psychology professor, will give a presentation at the conference which will address electronic cigarettes, their growing market and the FDA’s ongoing regulation of such products.
Eissenberg will present “Electronic Cigarettes: What Are They and What Do They Do?” will explain the phenomenon of electronic cigarettes and their spread into popular culture that can be seen almost anywhere in the United States.
“We’re actually now seeing this huge rise, percentage wise, in the number of youths who are using electronic cigarettes. It’s actually now surpassing use of combustible cigarettes,” said Randy Koch, the conference chairperson for the CSTP at VCU.
Koch organized the conference, selected the speakers for presentation and the topics they will address.
In Richmond, there are both new and established e-cig shops near campus. Just across Broad Street and next to Alchemy Coffee, Carytown Tobacco carries a variety of electronic cigarette products.
A grant from the Virginia Foundation for Health of Youth provided to the CSTP requires a presentation on the topic of youth tobacco consumption every three years.
“The prevalence of youth tobacco use, especially in terms of combustible cigarettes, as opposed to e-cigarettes, has been decreasing steadily for quite some time,” Koch said.
The modern electronic cigarette was first patented in 2003. Since then, they’ve seen a steady increase in use and commercialization. In 2014 it was predicted that there was worldwide $7 billion spent on them.
The product goes by many names, including e-cigs, electronic hookahs, vaporizers or “vapes,” vape pens and more. They all serve the same basic function: to deliver nicotine through vapor as opposed to a cigarette.
A viscous chemical which contains nicotine and flavoring is heated in a chamber which is then inhaled, much like the smoke from a cigarette. They are often suggested as an aid to quit smoking, as the heated vapor is reminiscent of regular tobacco cigarettes.
Whether or not they’re a truly safer alternative is speculative, however. Currently, the Food & Drug Administration is hesitant to make any definitive claims on the product.
E-cigs have been approved for sale within the U.S., which is apparent by the rising use, but it’s not under the same regulation as tobacco products.
Tobacco products, including cigarettes, roll-your-own, and smokeless tobacco are all regulated by the FDA, which is currently pushing for stronger regulation of the product, however.
On their website, the FDA states that such expansion would include powerful regulatory tools such as age restrictions and rigorous scientific review of new tobacco products and claims to reduce tobacco-related disease and death.
Some critics of electronic cigarettes, including Koch, say that they have particular focus on grabbing the attention of adolescents, particularly in their use of flavored oils.
A 2009 ban on flavoring of tobacco cigarettes was enacted in the interest of reducing their appeal to younger children. This regulation has not yet extended to electronic cigarettes.
“Personally, I don’t think that electronic cigarettes should be available of any flavors. I think it should be tobacco flavored only, and a lot of people feel the same way,” Koch said. “I think that when you have all of these flavors, it makes it much more appealing to adolescents, and I think at the very least, the one thing we do know is that we really don’t want adolescents using the electronic cigarettes.”
The future of electronic cigarettes remains ambiguous. However, there does not seem to be an immediate end to their use, as the market continues to expand.