Are Hookahs or E-Cigarettes Healthy or Safe Alternatives?

No.  Even though they are not cigarettes and come in youth-tempting flavors such as licorice, cherry, watermelon, and mint, hookahs and e-cigarettes are not healthy alternatives.  There are concerns that the use of these products may impact health.  Our community is enjoying very positive progress towards better health with a steady decline in our smoking rate over the past fifteen years.  It is important that all of us see through the haze of hype associated with hookahs and e-cigarettes and stay on our path towards better health by being tobacco free.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has extensive information on hookahs on their website athttp://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/tobacco_industry/hookahs/   They explain that a hookah is a water pipe used to smoke specially made tobacco and point out that “although many users think it is less harmful, hookah smoking has many of the same health risks as cigarette smoking.”  Hookah smoking is trendy and growing among youth and college students as it is typically done in groups, with the mouthpiece passed from person to person, creating an attractive social setting that distracts from the serious health concerns of the activity.  The CDC points out that hookahs “deliver nicotine, the same highly addictive drug as found in other tobacco products.”  Their smoke, even having passed through water, contains high levels of carbon monoxide, metals, and cancer-causing agents as well as other toxins that cause clogged arteries and heart disease.  The CDC references evidence that babies born to women who smoke hookahs weigh less at birth and are at increased risk for heart disease.  It’s not healthy. 

Similarly, makers of e-cigarettes, the same companies that produce cigarettes, are trying to position their product as a healthy choice for adults and adding kid-friendly flavors.  The CDC website points out that “while conventional cigarette advertising has been banned from television since 1971” the same is not true for e-cigarettes, which are heavily marketed on television.  From 2011 to 2012 alone, the advertising of e-cigarettes tripled.  The temptation of a new thing and the blasts of advertising have resulted in use of e-cigarettes doubling among adults between 2010 and 2013.  Most concerning, but not surprising given the colorful packaging and flavors being used, the CDC sites studies which show use among middle school and high school students also tripled nationally from 2013 to 2014.  Vermont data will be released sometime this fall. E-cigarette (sometimes called vaping) advertising goes as far as implying they are harmless – claims made despite research that shows “e-cigarettes may contain toxic chemicals and potentially harmful nanoparticles with formaldehyde, benzene, and other carcinogens in their vapors” (DHHS, 2013) and that “Reports of hospitalization for pneumonia, congestive heart failure, seizure, and hypotension have occurred after e-cigarette use.” (DHHS, 2014)  Just because they are supposed to taste like licorice doesn’t make them a treat for kids – and that apple flavor certainly  won’t keep the doctor away!

Fortunately, we are seeing more and more people in Franklin and Grand Isle counties embracing healthy lifestyles.  Fewer adults and fewer children are using tobacco products.  We are thrilled to see CVS Pharmacy stop selling cigarettes and equally thrilled that to our knowledge all but one of the independent pharmacies, are tobacco free.  If the pharmacy you use still sells cigarettes or other tobacco products, ask them to stop.  While it has been a tough year for the Red Sox in the standings, it has been a great year in Boston for baseball – as the Boston City Council voted to take chewing tobacco out of baseball, from little league fields to Fenway Park.  That’s something that even Yankee fans can cheer about!  Even more importantly, help and support and resources continue to be available FREE to Vermonters who want to quit using tobacco.  To learn more and for free nicotine gum, lozenges and patches as well as help in-person, over the phone, or online, visit 802quits.org or call NMC’s Chari Andersen, an RN in our Lifestyle Medicine Department (524-8480) who has helped many in our community quit tobacco and enjoy better health.  You and your loved ones will be so happy you did.

— Jill Berry Bowen, NMC’s Chief Executive Officer