Who's who in the murky world of electronic cigarettes


The emergence of new lung diseases in the U.S. raised the alarm about the real dangers behind vaporizers, increasingly consumed in Latin America. While Mexico organizes a mega convention of 'vapeadores', consumers continue to evade restrictions on their commercialization.

Who's who in the rugged world of electronic cigarettes. Image: Pixabay
Who's who in the rugged world of electronic cigarettes. Image: Pixabay

The vaporizers or electronic cigarettes returned in the last days to the center of the controversy, after the president of the United States, Donald Trump, announced the possibility of prohibiting the commercialization of flavored cartridges. The statement was made in the face of the deaths of seven people and the accumulation of patients with lung diseases derived from these devices.

Indeed, the concern of the authorities seems to focus especially on vaporizers that use cartridges with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive component of cannabis.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the seven victims were recorded in the states of California, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, and Oregon. In addition, there are 36 states with a total of more than 400 patients with lung diseases associated with electronic cigarette use.

While authorities are evaluating new restrictions, such as the one already taken by New York State by banning the sale of flavored vaporizers, science is trying to establish the true relationship between diseases and the oils used by the devices.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that in a group of 53 patients, 84% said they had used devices with THC. Although 14 different brands of THC products and 13 brands of nicotine were found among the patients, the study highlights that more than half of the users used products from a brand known as 'Dank Vape'.

Precisely, 'Dank Vape' is one of the brands mentioned as related to lung diseases by the New York Government Department of Health, along with 'Chronic Carts', due to the presence of high levels of vitamin E acetate.

According to the New York Department of Health, vitamin E is known not to be harmful when used as a dietary supplement or applied to the skin but its effects are not clear when inhaled, as is the case with vaporizers. For the authorities, the "oily properties" of vitamin E could be associated with lung diseases.

But questions about electronic cigarettes also have their counterparts among users and companies that are engaged in an industry that, beyond controversy, continues to grow in the world. An example of this is the 'Vape Trade Convention', a Latin American meeting of vaporizer users that takes place in Mexico City and will have its third edition in November.

Rafael Flores Vega, responsible for marketing at VTC, told Sputnik that in many cases of poisoning with vaporizers the responsibility is the user. "We can not control that any user uses a vaporizer cartridge with substances that are illegal in that country," he said.

In fact, the company itself 'Dank Vapes' devotes several publications on its website and networks to advise its users how to detect 'fake cartridges', which would not have the guarantees in its development.

Those who continue to rely on vaporizers

As national health authorities strive to update regulations, users of electronic cigarettes seem to be growing steadily. According to a Euromonitor survey, the number of vaporizer users worldwide went from 7 million in 2011 to 35 million in 2016 and could reach 55 million users in 2021.

However, the regulations have had an effect, as the rate of growth in the use of these devices slowed. While the number of users increased by 818% between 2011 and 2016, the expected growth between 2016 and 2021 would be 176%.

Latin America does not escape the trend and the VTC may well be considered a sample of this. According to its organizers, the 2018 edition (the second to be held) attracted about 8,000 people in its three-day duration. In 2019 they say they will attract 12,000.

The event, which is promoted as the largest vape convention in Latin America, will bring together 500 companies dedicated to the sale of vaporizers. Flores Vega pointed out that Mexican, U.S., Chinese and even Colombian brands will be exhibited, among other countries.

For Flores Vega, providing information to new or experienced consumers of electronic cigarettes is essential "so that the customer does not have an accident in the future.

"Obviously you have to follow the precautions in the use of a vaporizer and have a very important guide. We know that if you have too much nicotine you can get intoxicated".

Along these lines, VTC's social networks devote several publications to inform their followers about some substances contained in vaporizers such as vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol, two oily substances that are used to achieve a better 'blow of the throat', as the phenomenon that gives the user the sensation of smoking is called.

The publications also give advice on solving some common problems, such as 'vapeador language', a phenomenon that causes the user to stop feeling the taste of vaporizers for several days.

Flores Vega defended the usefulness of vaporizers as an alternative for people who want to stop smoking traditional cigarettes. "We have to make people understand that we don't consume but that we want to stop smoking and this can help us," he said, assuring that vaporizers are more effective than nicotine patches or gum.

For the VTC representative, this is one of the keys to growth in the use of electronic cigarettes. "There are a lot of people who are getting closer because they are tired of smelling ugly, of having cigarette problems and they want to start using vaporizers," he said.

What does the WHO say?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has another look at this. In its 2019 report, the organization notes that 'electronic nicotine delivery systems' (SEANs) are "a serious public health problem" because "the aerosols released by SEANs contain toxic substances that can increase the risk of cancer and cardiovascular or lung disease for any of their users.

The same body recognizes that vaporizers could be less harmful than traditional cigarettes, noting that there is "an intense debate around the possibility that the SEAN serve to stop smoking or if, in fact, are the first step to smoking. In any case, he notes in his report that "it is still too early to draw conclusions".

The report also recalls the decision of the 2016 Conference of the Parties (COP7) in which WHO invited countries to "prohibit or restrict the manufacture, import, distribution, offering, sale and use" of vaporizers, with the aim of preventing them from being used by non-smokers, as well as to "prohibit messages about alleged unfounded health virtues" of the devices.

Who bans it in Latin America?

Although it will host the largest convention on vaporizers in Latin America, Mexico is one of the countries that has legal restrictions on its commercialization. In any case, there is a legal vacuum, since the prohibition arises from article 16 of the General Law for Tobacco Control, which restricts the sale of articles that resemble tobacco products but does not specifically mention electronic cigarettes.

Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay are also prohibited from marketing electronic cigarettes, on the understanding that it has not been proven that their use is harmless to health. However, in those countries, the devices are also sold through the Internet, taking advantage of the legal loopholes of online commerce.

The possibility of accessing the devices evading government positions allows, for example, that in Argentina 7.1% of adolescents between 13 and 15 years old consume electronic cigarettes, according to the World Youth Smoking Survey released by the local press. The same study reveals that 14.4% have tried them before.

In Mexico, although of lesser magnitude, there is also a significant consumption among adolescents: 6.5% of those between the ages of 12 and 17 have ever tried and 1.1% do so regularly, according to the National Survey of Drug, Alcohol, and Tobacco Consumption 2016-2017.

Restrictions are also advancing in Colombia, where the Senate recently passed a bill to prohibit sales to minors and restrict advertising and marketing channels. A regulation that seeks to address the high consumption in the country that leads the electronic cigarette sales statistics, totaling revenues of $8.6 million in 2018, according to Euromonitor.

It is followed by Chile, with US$400,000 in sales, where there are still no legal restrictions and only in 2019 the Chilean Ministry of Health planned to regulate it.

Source: Sputnik News

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