(photo credit: REUTERS)
Although the US surgeon-general has taken electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) very seriously and called them a “growing threat to the health of young people,” the Health Ministry in Jerusalem has not.
In fact, it did not even include the use of e-cigs in its MABAT survey of the health practices of 6,274 junior and senior high school pupils released last week, but only the smoking of cigarettes and nargilas (hookahs, or water pipes).
In that survey, 30% of pupils in grades seven through 12 reported that they smoke nargilas, a figure that was higher than their self-reported use of cigarettes. But there was not a single question about the use of e-cigs, thus the ministry cannot know how widespread their use is here.
When asked to comment on the surgeon general’s warning, the ministry said: “E-cigs have not succeeded in penetrating the Israeli market significantly, especially not in teenagers. We do not have intentions of advancing regulation on them at this stage.”
But it did not explain how it knew teens don’t use e-cigs if the subject was omitted from the MABAT survey.
E-cigs, which contain concentrates of nicotine or other compounds that can be carcinogenic when heated, do not produce regular smoke. Consisting of a battery, a device that heats the chemical and a container to store it, an electronic cigarette vaporizes the powder or liquid into synthetic smoke, or vapor. There has been at least one case in Israel in which a toddler died after consuming the active ingredients in his parents’ e-cigs.
Although initially e-cigs became popular in the US as a way to help users to quit or to reduce cigarette smoking, there is no proof that they are effective for that or even that they are safe. As a result, they cannot be sold in pharmacies, by Health Ministry order.
Over the weekend, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy – the top federal medical authority in the US – called for efforts to minimize the use of e-cigs among teenagers. He maintained that the use of such products among American teens has risen dramatically – nine-fold in the last four years – and that their use today is more common than ordinary cigarettes made from tobacco.
According to figures from the surgeon-general’s office, almost two out of five US high school pupils have tried e-cigs at least once.
Murthy said that the chemicals in e-cigs can damage young brains at a stage when they are still developing, and that the vapors can create a dangerous aerosol that affects people surrounding the e-cig smoker. Other public health experts have opposed e-cigs because addiction to the nicotine in them can induce young people to switch to tobacco-filled, burnable cigarettes.