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Health districts advice on e-cigs: Limit, tax, quit

The future of vaping is getting hazier all the time. On Feb. 19, the Southern Nevada Health District put out an e-cigarette advisory containing this unambiguous proclamation on the notion that they’re safe alternatives to conventional cigarettes: “Substituting one disease-causing agent for another is not a healthy choice and hinders public health efforts to reduce the toll of death and disease in Nevada.”

The four-page document details the various health, quality and safety problems that have been uncovered over the last five years with e-cigarettes, and the public laws passed restricting their use. The health district also voices its concern that the tobacco industry, which is getting into the e-cigarette game, will resort to its old trick of marketing to kids to get future customers hooked while they’re young. The solution? Policy-makers, health-care providers and the public should treat e-cigarettes like conventional cigarettes, regulating, taxing and/or avoiding them (or helping patients to avoid them) altogether.

Meanwhile, the Nevada Legislature may grant at least part of the health district’s wish. Senate Bill No. 79 would change existing law on cigarettes and other tobacco products to include liquid nicotine, allowing the state to tax and regulate so-called “vape juice” accordingly. The health district’s announcement wasn’t timed to coincide with the state legislative session, says spokeswoman Jennifer Sizemore — but it’s part of a growing wave of skepticism about e-cigarettes.

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“There have been some high-profile stories at the national level, some studies, and the FDA’s regulation is pending,” she says. “There’s a lot of conflicting information out there about the health effects, so we thought (the advisory) was timely.”

One study Sizemore is referring to appeared Jan. 22 in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers from Portland State University found that vaping produces considerable concentrations of formaldehyde, a group 1 carcinogen according to International Agency for Research on Cancer standards. They concluded that the cancer risk from long-term vaping could be 5-15 times higher than that of long-term smoking.

“If current e-cigarette trends continue,” the health district advisory notes, “decades of efforts that have made smoking socially unacceptable will be reversed.” 

Desert Companion welcomed Heidi Kyser as staff writer in January 2014. In 2018, she was promoted to senior writer and producer, working for both DC and State of Nevada. She produced KNPR’s first podcast, the Edward R. Murrow Regional Award-winning Native Nevada, in 2020. The following year, she returned her focus full-time to Desert Companion, becoming Deputy Editor, which meant she was next in line to take over when longtime editor Andrew Kiraly left in July 2022.