E-cigarettes’ safety prompts clash of experts

PHOTO PROVIDED Dr. Pius Ochieng, a pulmonary disease specialist in Williamsport, left, consults with a patient. Ochieng says he finds the increase of e-cigarette use among young people alarming.

The use of e-cigarettes, particularly among youths, recently received a less than ringing endorsement from a local physician who agrees with the U.S. surgeon general’s report in December that they pose a public health concern.

Dr. Pius Ochieng, a pulmonary disease specialist in Williamsport, finds it alarming that e-cigarettes have increased among young people nationwide.

“E-cigarettes are not harmless,” he said.

But Michael Siegel, a tobacco-control researcher at Boston University’s School of Public Health, said that although e-cigarettes do pose “potential hazards,” far too many health professionals are alarmists on the issue.

“I think there’s really been a lot of misinformation and hysteria about all the harms about it,” he told the Sun-Gazette. “A lot of it just isn’t based on fact.”

Ochieng noted the arguments in favor of e-cigarettes, including the belief that it can help a person stop smoking more harmful conventional cigarettes and tobacco products.

E-cigarettes widely are believed to contain many fewer toxic substances than traditional cigarettes, but many health officials, including Ochieng believe they still pose dangers.

“At this point, e-cigarettes are not regulated, and it’s hard to know what they contain,” he said.

He conceded more research is needed into the effects of vaping, while adding he thinks e-cigarettes can be an entry to traditional cigarettes.

“You certainly don’t want some of this stuff in your lungs,” he said. “We are carefully looking at the science coming out,” he said.

According to statistics, e-cigarettes are the most commonly used form of tobacco among young people in the U.S.

In addition, vaping among middle and high school students has tripled during the past five years. And among people between the ages of 18 and 24 it has doubled over that time.

Ochieng said some of his own patients are trying to quit smoking traditional cigarettes by turning to vaping.

He said the best advice he can give is for them not to smoke at all.

But Siegel said there is plenty of evidence that points to vaping being much safer than traditional smoking.

“The reality is for many many smokers, these cigarettes have been a life saver. They have allowed them to quit smoking,” he said.

Too many people who have tried many of the conventional methods of giving up their smoking habit, find vaping to be the only way to stay off traditional cigarettes.

Siegel, a non-smoker himself, said it may perhaps be time for health professionals to have a more open mind about the issue rather than to simply demonize vaping.

Many health groups, he said, simply have been too quick to see e-cigarettes as a threat.

“My initial reaction to e-cigarettes was not positive,” he said. “It wasn’t until really researching it and talking to e-cigarette users that I came around.”