Health & Safety

March 15, 2013

Air Force aims to curtail electronic cigarette use

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NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — More people died from smoking-related illness in 2012 than live in Miami.

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.

Electronic cigarettes and all other tobacco products, to include smokeless tobacco, are prohibited from use on all military installations unless in a pre-determined smoking area. Regulations for tobacco use by Air Force service members can be found in Air Force Instruction 40-102, Tobacco use in the military.




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2 Comments


  1. Bill Godshall

    As one who has campaigned to reduce cigarette consumption during the past three decades, I’m disappointed this propaganda piece simply repeats Mrs Weart’s false and misleading claims about nicotine and e-cigarettes without any fact checking.

    Daily cigarette smoking causes >99% of all tobacco attributable morbidity and mortality, while all other tobacco use causes 99% of all future tobacco attributable disease and death in the US will occur among the 33 million daily cigarette smokers (and to several million former daily smokers who face gradually declining risks for 25 years after quitting).

    Meanwhile, the 38 million other tobacco users in the US (i.e. 14 million cigar smokers, 10 million smokeless tobacco users, 12 million non daily cigarette smokers, 2 million e-cigarette users, and 1 million pipe smokers) will incur <1% of tobacco attributable morbidity and mortality.

    Cigarettes are at least 100 time more hazardous than all noncombustible tobacco/nicotine products marketed in the US (i.e. smokeless tobacco, e-cigarettes, nicotine gums and lozenges). Meanwhile, cigars are significantly less hazardous than cigarettes since most cigar smokers don't inhale the smoke, most don't smoke daily, and because only a very small percentage inhale the smoke and smoke multiple cigars daily.

    Nicotine is very similar to caffeine, as both temporarily raise the heart rate and blood pressure, and both can cause daily dependence. But daily use for many decades of nicotine and caffiene pose no disease risks.

    If caffeine consumers smoked 20 rolled up tea leaf cigarettes every day for many decades to obtain their daily desired dosage of caffeine, millions of them would be dying from lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease and other smoking diseases.

    The solution to this public health problem would be to truthfully inform caffeine consumers (and the public) that drinking caffeine (e.g. coffee, tea, soda) is exponentially less hazardous than smoking caffeine, to tax tea leaf cigarettes, ban their sale to minors and ban smoking them indoors.

    The solution to this public health problem would NOT be to falsely claim that caffeine is dangerous and deadly, that all caffeine products are equally harmful, and that complete caffeine abstinence for everyone is the only solution (as Mrs. Weart and other abstinence only nicotine prohibitionists and propagandists falsely claim about nicotine).

    Unfortunately for public health, the Obama administration has appointed and hired dozens of abstinence only tobacco/nicotine prohibitionists and propagandists at DHHS (e.g. CDC, FDA, US PHS), VA and health agencies within the military, who have falsely claimed that "tobacco use" (instead of cigarette smoking) is the leading cause of disease and death, and deceitfully claiming that all tobacco products (including e-cigarettes) are as hazardous as cigarette smoking.

    This is public health malpractice of historic proportion, as many/most of the 33 million daily cigarette smokers would switch to far less hazardous e-cigarettes, smokeless tobacco products, and other noncombustible tobacco/nicotine products.

    The good news is that several million American smokers have already quit smoking (or sharply reduced their cigarette consumption) by switching to e-cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and/or other smokefree alternatives.

    Bill Godshall
    Executive Director
    Smokefree Pennsylvania
    1926 Monongahela Avenue
    Pittsburgh, PA 15218
    412-351-5880
    smokefree@compuserve.com


    • Bill Godshall

      The words “while all other tobacco use causes” in the second sentence of my previous post should be replaced with “and”, as I failed to proof read before posting.



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