Medical Watch

Chicagoans help on electronic cigarettes study

Electronic cigarettes. They’re lighting up the market place. Some users believe they are safer. Others say the vapor-producing devices have helped them kick their tobacco habit. But the government wants to know more and is turning to Chicago researchers to find the answers.

A weekday morning brings a steady stream of customers to 21 Century Smoking – an electronic or “e” cigarette store in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. Some are regulars stocking up on supplies. Others are newcomers – ready to explore the offerings. Employee Katie Galan — an e-cigarette user herself — rattles off a menu of options. First, choose your nicotine level.

Katie Galan: “Twenty-four is a little higher than your average cigarette, 16 is a little lower.”

Then, if you’d like, add a flavor. Next, select the color of your stick – the battery portion that looks like a real cigarette.

Katie Galan: “We can make it look like the cigarette you’re smoking now or we can make it funky and blue.”

Adam Provenzano started using the device about a year ago.

Adam Provenzano, E-cig user: “I quit for a while and started back up again, smoking about a pack a day. Since I started this, I haven’t had a cigarette which is a good thing. I know that we don’t know all the facts on what’s in it yet, but I do know it’s a lot safer than regular cigarettes.”

But are they? It’s a burning question the U.S. government can’t answer. Unlike tobacco products, e-cigarettes aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. In 2009, the FDA warned consumers about potential health risks after analyzing nicotine cartridges from two leading brands. One sample was found to contain diethylene glycol, a toxic chemical used in antifreeze. Several other samples were found to contain carcinogens, including nitrosamines.

21 Century Smoking imports the majority of its liquid nicotine from China and lists the ingredients on the company’s web site. As the safety debate drags on, researchers here in Chicago have been charged with a different task.

Robin Mermelstein, UIC health behavior researcher: “We know very little about e cigarettes. They are increasingly popular. So there is a desperate need for us to learn more about why people are using them, what they’re getting out of them and what people think about them.”

University of Illinois at Chicago health behavior researcher Robin Mermelstein and her team have been awarded a $2.3 million federal grant to investigate how young adults use alternative smoking products.

Robine Mermelstein: “People might use it as a type of a replacement and transition all the way from traditional combustible cigarettes to these non-combustible e cigarettes. But, if people just use them and it prolongs your dependency and makes it harder to quit, we don’t know. So we need to do more research on understanding are they a good way to stop smoking, that’s a good question.”

There’s no question many e-cigarette users are happy they’ve transitioned from conventional cigarettes to vapor. For them, the benefits are clear.

Katie Galan: “I can smell my shampoo again, my car is smoke free. Not only do you get your nicotine, you get to have something between your fingers, you get to pull it to your mouth … that’s half the battle.”

To learn more about UIC’s e-cigarette study, check out:

People interested in learning more or participating in the study can call 312-996-4528


104 Comments to “Chicagoans help on electronic cigarettes study”

    pdoughey said:
    July 18, 2013 at 10:21 PM

    I do not endorse or represent any e cig manufacturer! I have been using one for 4 years now, and the only draw back is dry throat (drink lots of water). My sense of smell and taste have returned. I no longer get winded when I go up and down stairs. My doctor asked me how long I smoked before using an e cig (20+ years 1-1 1/2 packs a day). He said my lungs sounded like a non-smoker's lungs! Any "studies" that you see on the internet that say it is bad for you, were planted there (and made-up/bought) by the tobacco and pharma companies and government do-gooders who have never smoked a day in their lives and do not understand addiction (nor do they want to…It's a power trip for them)! Now, if we can just have more businesses and the airlines realize that this is not smoking and it is not releasing toxins in the air and allow these, the world would be almost perfect! It works!

    Ania said:
    July 19, 2013 at 3:34 PM

    I swear, if I hear one more time about that 2009 FDA study and antifreeze and nitrosamines, I'm going to explode with frustration! Diethylene glycol was found in ONE cartridge, just ONE, out of all those studied, and it has NEVER been found in a single one since, out of millions, probably tens or hundreds of millions, of cartridges produced and consumed since. As for the nitrosamines, FDA and tobacco prohibitionists neglect to mention that the levels found in e-cigarette cartridges were at the same levels or below the levels of those same nitrosamines found in nicotine gum and lozenges, and could therefore NOT be dangerous, because the FDA approves nicotine gum and lozenges!

    Journalists, PLEASE do your jobs, research before you print, and stop perpetuating these half-truths and lies-by-omission about e-cigarettes. The millions of e-cigarette users in this country, who are improving their health and prolonging their lives with this revolutionary technology, would be grateful.

    Elaine Keller said:
    July 19, 2013 at 5:06 PM

    I have just one thing to add to Ania's comment. No DEG was found in the vapor.

    mattzuke said:
    July 22, 2013 at 12:53 PM

    "One sample was found to contain diethylene glycol, a toxic chemical used in antifreeze. Several other samples were found to contain carcinogens, including nitrosamines."

    But it wasn't found at toxic levels, and this was NOT detected in the vapor. Sterno fuel contains DEG and that's specifically allowed indoors. As an anti-boil compound it's the last thing you'd want in an e-cigarette.

    The most interesting thing about the FDA study is it make it clear it contained FEWER nitrosamines than the Nicotrol Inhaler.

    Now you can't claim it's safer since according to the FDA it's already "safe", but you can say it can't be more harmful than NRPs in terms of TSNAs.

    Shashank said:
    September 2, 2013 at 1:13 PM

    you misspelled Robin as Robine in the middle of the article…hurts your credibility a bit

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