There was a time Trevor Robinson found himself puffing through two packs of cigarettes a day.
He was 14 when he started smoking. By his 20s he was deep in the chokehold of big tobacco.
“I was one of those people who lit a cigarette with a cigarette,” Robinson said.
He told his story between inhales and exhales — but not of smoke from smoldering tobacco.
There’s no combustion involved in the battery-powered electronic device he was using that delivered, at the push of a button, a hit of nicotine in flavored vaporized liquid.
Robinson, 28, of Queensbury, has gone three years without tobacco and said he has almost freed himself from the nicotine addiction. With electronic cigarettes — called e-cigarettes — he has been able to dial down his nicotine dosage in the e-liquids. The levels go from 24 milligrams or 2.4 percent to zero. Nicotine, a stimulant, raises the heart rate and blood pressure and dopamine levels.
“The reason I like these so much is I was able to quit smoking,” Robinson said. “I was smoking way too much. I was feeling miserable … My chest hurt from it.”
Now Robinson is a sales representative with Unique eCigs in Queensbury, a company based out of Syracuse that has about a dozen locations. The company makes its own e-liquids in the U.S. that go through purity testing at independent laboratories, he said. They contain Kosher propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, flavoring and nicotine. Flavors range from simple to complex. The North Country series, for example, includes “46 Peaks,” a dessert flavor of berries, vanilla ice cream and a cherry and “Nature Hike” a trail mix flavor.
“It’s not as harsh as a cigarette,” said Damon Gray, another smoker who started in his teens and found himself going through a pack a day.
“I’m actually weening myself off cigarettes,” said Gray, 20, of Glens Falls.
Another smoker, Jennifer Crosby, 37, of Glens Falls started vaping a couple months ago with the goal of quitting, and they are not alone. According to data released this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 47.6 percent of smokers have tried vaping and 55.4 percent of smokers who quit within one year or less of the survey have tried e-cigarettes.
Comparatively, 8.9 percent of long-term smokers who quit have tried e-cigarettes while 3.2 percent of adults who never smoked cigarettes have tried them.
Roughly one in six (15.9 percent) current smokers and about one in four (22 percent) recent cigarette smokers reported using e-cigarettes while 2.3 percent of long-term former cigarette smokers and 0.4 percent of adults who never smoked reported use of them, according to the CDC report.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not list it as an approved smoking cessation method and does not regulate the e-cigarette products, though rules to have the FDA step in and do that are pending.
The Oxford Dictionaries 2014 Word of the Year was “vape,” which means to inhale and exhale vapor produced by an electronic cigarette. According to the dictionary’s website, at the close of last year, people were 30 times more likely to come across the word than two years earlier.
A government study in the UK this year concluded e-cigarettes are 95 percent less harmful than tobacco cigarettes.
The first concept of an electronic cigarette was patented in 1965, but it wasn’t until 2003 that it entered the marketplace from China. In the past 12 years, the product has evolved dramatically and many of the e-liquids are now made in the U.S.
“I think it gets a bad rap,” said Gray, explaining people see the cloud of vapor and don’t understand what it is.
With an industry that just started gaining popularity roughly a decade ago, there a lot of data gaps in the research
The state Assembly this year passed a measure to add vaping to the Clean Indoor Air Act, which banned smoking from workplaces — including bars and restaurants — in 2003 in the state. That bill was last listed in the rules committee with the state Senate. New York City already banned vaping anywhere smoking is banned. In New York, the products cannot be sold to anyone younger than 18.
On the national level, Senate Democrats last month signed a letter urging the White House Office of Management and Budget to finalize its review of the proposal to have the FDA regulate e-cigarettes. A national debate is ongoing on whether the enticing flavors and device designs are re-normalizing smoking behavior and attracting youth.
A local man with international recognition in air-quality research is hoping to provide the science lawmakers need to provide science-driven policy.
“Although people have heard of electronic cigarettes, most people don’t understand what they’re about,” said Tim McAuley, which causes lawmakers to lump vaping in with smoking.
McAuley, of Queensbury, founder of CHANGE, which stands for Consulting for Health, Air, Nature and a Greener Environment, has done research ranging from air quality in Asia to fracking-related work in Pennsylvania.
Now McAuley is preparing a continuation of a study CHANGE had published in 2012 that has been widely cited. It was commissioned by the National Vapers Club, an organization founded in 2009 that promotes education and scientific research while looking to protect vapers’ rights. Some of the funding for the study was raised through a crowd-funding effort at its semi-annual event called Vapefest.
It was the first research comparing the effects of e-cigarette vapor to cigarette smoke on indoor air quality. The findings, called “Comparison of the effects of e-cigarette vapor and cigarette smoke on indoor air quality” were published in “Inhalation Toxicology.” It found “electronic cigarettes produce very small exposures relative to tobacco cigarettes.”
McAuley also served on expert panels for the American Heart Association and National Heart Lung and Blood Institute to assess data gaps and drive future research critical to understanding the effects of using e-cigarettes.
The NVC committed $50,000 in seed money to the new undertaking, the “Bystander Exposure Assessment Research Study” that will help people understand the effects of dispersion and the migration path of vapors in a multi-floor building with a shared ventilation system.
It will answer the question of: “If I’m in a building with someone vaping, am I being exposed?” McAuley said.
It will be published in a peer-reviewed medical journal, McAuley said. The rest of the money needed for the study is being raised.
“That’s a big, big question right now because of the differences in chemistry between vaping and (smoking) cigarettes,” McAuley said.
It will also assess the migration path of the vapor to various areas around the building.
“My research is going to look at what the chemical constituents and components are that could result from use of the new standard type e-cigarette in a building and in other open spaces that could draw concerns for exposures. As a result of that, we’ll provide a major answer to the literature right now that is currently lacking,” McAuley said.
This research will allow people to better gauge any potential risks to people living in a shared ventilation system building and whether or not concern is warranted regarding exposures to residences of people who don’t vape.
With cigarettes, there are three exposures to the air: exhalation, the side stream during inhalation and the smoke released as the cigarette is at rest. With e-cigarettes, there is no side stream or at-rest release of vapor.
“Whatever the results show, they’re going to be public, and they’re always for that,” McAuley said of the NVC. “Nobody is interested in junk science where if it says this, let’s not say anything. I’d never enter into anything that we weren’t able to be 100 percent involved in.”
Cheryl Richter, financial secretary with the National Vapers Club, who co-owns Cherry Vape in Westchester County, said she had been a smoker for 30 years before she quit with e-cigarettes. Nothing else worked, she said.
She said one of her colleagues who lives in California approached her about laws pending related to banning vaping in apartment and office buildings, which prompted the club to seek out McAuley for the new study.
“Six years ago there were really no studies, no science whatsoever on e-cigarettes, their efficacy, their safety, how they compared to regular cigarettes,” Richter said.
She said it was around 2010 that brick and mortar vape shops started opening. Several have opened in the local area in the past two years.
“The free market solved the public health dilemma of smoking (with e-cigarettes) that years and years of government money and funds and advertising could never do, which is to beat back the smoking rate. We step on some very big toes when we do that. We come up against big pharmacy. We come up against big tobacco and big government,” Richter said.
In 2009 the FDA said a sample it tested contained diethylene glycol, a toxic chemical used in antifreeze. Several other samples were found to contain carcinogens and were mislabeled no-nicotine, according to the FDA
“That was a test they did with no specific perimeters whatsoever. This was back in the day when the FDA was seizing shipments from China,” Richter said. “Today the U.S. leads the market in manufacturing e-liquid.”
The bottom line is that government and consumers need “science-driven policy without assumptions,” McAuley said.