Every time an individual inhales smoke from a cigarette, they’re actually ingesting more than 4,000 chemicals. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, some of these chemicals, if taken alone in high enough quantities, have the potential to kill.
The Department of Defense attempts to curtail cigarette use by releasing safety information, promoting a focus on fitness and health, and banning cigarette use in public places and training environments.
The military’s effort to limit tobacco use by service members has been noticed by tobacco companies. A survey conducted by the DOD has shown a dramatic decline in Airmen’s use of tobacco products since 2005, when it peaked at 25 percent of all service members. What used to be a reliable source of revenue for these companies is now being sharply reduced.
Recently, these companies introduced a new product into the market that has the potential to be even more devastating to a cigarette user’s health than their previous products — electronic cigarettes.
“Nicotine is as addictive as cocaine or heroin,” said Mrs. Laura Weart, 99th Aerospace Medicine Squadron Health and Wellness Center director. “Tobacco companies know this and are trying to find ways to keep its customers fixated on their product.”
Because of tobacco companies claiming a safer more socially acceptable alternative to traditional cigarettes, electronic cigarettes have recently gained some supporters among service members.
Even though e-cigarettes don’t contain a majority of the chemicals found in regular cigarettes, they do contain chemicals that are equally, if not more harmful to those who inhale them. These chemicals include diethylene glycol, a component of antifreeze that’s toxic to humans and is banned in food and drugs, and nitrosamine, which is a radioactive substance known to cause cancer.
Electronic cigarettes work by inserting a tobacco cartridge in a specialized cigarette shaped tube. This cartridge looks like the filter of a traditional cigarette and contains a heat-activated liquid. When a user inhales, a battery activates an internal heating element, turning the liquid into a vapor containing high levels of nicotine.
Since there is no real filter for the vapor released from the cartridge, the amount of nicotine received by the user is inconsistent. According to the American Lung Association, sometimes the vapor a user receives from one inhale of an e-cigarette contains the same amount of nicotine found in five traditional cigarettes. The acid from the battery also has the potential to leak and be inhaled along with the nicotine.
“No matter how it’s used, nicotine is unhealthy,” Weart said.
In 2010, Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Charles B Green, then Air Force surgeon general, issued a memorandum to commanders notifying them to classify electronic cigarettes in the same category as any other tobacco products, to include chewing tobacco, under Air Force Instruction 40-102, Tobacco Use in the Air Force. It states guidelines for use of tobacco in the Air Force and provides suggestions for establishing a tobacco-free Air Force in the future.
“Most people use electronic cigarettes as crutch to quit smoking,” Weart said. “Unfortunately these individuals don’t realize they are being provided the same amount of nicotine and behavioral stimulation they would get from smoking actual cigarettes.”
The HAWC provides two programs to help Nellis and Creech Airmen cease tobacco use.
The first works in conjunction with the American Lung Association. In this program, individuals track their tobacco use and speak to respiratory counselors on ways to slowly but effectively quit. This program lasts as long as the user needs it and provides a support system for individuals finding it difficult to fight the urge to use tobacco products.
The second program is tobacco cessation classes available every Thursday at 4 p.m. During these classes users discuss a range of topics with other tobacco users in order to provide a stable and productive way for individuals to deal with the stresses of quitting.
“The only way to remain completely healthy is to quit smoking completely,” Weart said.