As the city of Dawsonville, local schools and the county government look to clamp down on vaping usage, the common concern has boiled down to the general health and safety of others.
“We’re always concerned about secondhand tobacco smoke, then you always wonder about secondhand vaping,” Dr. Larry Anderson said.
Anderson, owner of Anderson Family Medicine in Dawsonville, sat down with the Dawson County News to speak about some of the concerns he sees with vaping and why he thinks the recent city ordinance was a good idea.
“I hope it makes the environment safer for the rest of us, just like when we went to no smoking in restaurants, public buildings, things like that, to keep us away from it,” Anderson said.
On May 6, the city council unanimously approved a city ordinance limiting the use of tobacco and vaping products around city hall, city parks and cemeteries as well as within 200 feet of schools and within 100 feet of churches.
Anderson said the use of electronic cigarettes to inhale water vapor is a relatively new trend and that there are not many studies available at this time assessing the long term effects.
According to the U.S. Surgeon General, e-cigarettes hit the U.S. market around 2007.
“Lack of proof that something exists is not proof that it does not exist,” Anderson said. “Lack of proof at this point that vaping is significantly bad for you is not proof that it’s not bad for you.”
On the other side of the equation, Jamie Wheatley, owner of Vaperz Den in Dawsonville, doesn’t see the harm in what he feels is a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes.
Wheatley opened Vaperz Den on Quill Drive in May 2017 and is opening his second location in Murrayville this June.
“In my mind, this country has been pushing so much for better healthcare and healthier things,” Wheatley explained, “then the industry comes along and offers a healthier solution and then it wants to get shot down.”
Wheatley first began vaping about six years ago after being a heavy smoker for more than 25 years. He was smoking two and a half packs of cigarettes per day when he made the switch to e-cigarettes.
“I tried for years to quit smoking through all different kinds of tactics whether it was cold turkey, candy or gum or any of that stuff, and nothing seemed to work,” Wheatley said. “For me, vaping worked.”
Wheatley began by vaping juices with 36mg of nicotine and now vapes juices with 0-1mg of nicotine. His success in quitting cigarettes is part of the reason he decided to open up a vape shop because he wanted to help others quit smoking.
“I don’t think there’s any harm to (vaping). I mean, I know how I feel from the difference of smoking to vaping. I got my taste buds back. I can taste my food. I can go up a flight of stairs without having to stop halfway up to catch my breath. I feel better,” Wheately said. “Somebody’s going to find something in everything… somebody’s going to find something that they’re going to pick apart.”
Anderson said of the patients he has seen, none have been successful with quitting cigarette smoking by switching to vaping.
“There’s always exceptions to everything, but for the most part I have not had my patients be successful,” Anderson said. “I’ve had patients say they would try that, and they just swap one nicotine product for the other and they had not stopped vaping even though their intent was to start cutting down on nicotine. It just never seemed to happen.”
Currently there is little evidence supporting the claim that e-cigarettes help reduce cigarette use.
A 2018 claim made by Professor John Newton, Director for Health Improvement at Public Health England, stated that vaping was 95 percent less harmful that smoking cigarettes, however in August 2018 the European Public Health Association released a report stating that the widely cited 95 percent figure came from a discussion among individuals, most of whom had advocated for vaping products, who conceded that they lacked evidence on which to base their conclusion.
According to the Center for Disease Control, e-cigarettes are not currently approved by the FDA as a quit smoking aid, and a 2018 report from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine stated that there was moderate evidence that e-cigarette use increases the frequency and intensity of cigarette smoking in the future.
“I think the important thing is that there’s no medical or government entity that has come out and said this product is safe or even come out to say this particular formulation…is a safe thing to do,” Anderson said. “I don’t think anybody has ever shown that anything you put in your lungs that is not clean air is not harmful.”
Wheatley, who grew up in a home full of smokers, has seen the harmful effects cigarette smoking has had on him and his family, and believes that vaping is a healthier alternative.
“My mom was a heavy smoker for 50 plus years and she’s a home hospice RN nurse and I finally got her to try it. She’s quit smoking and now she’s vaping,” Wheatley said. “My dad just got diagnosed with COPD a month ago and I got him vaping. He had to quit smoking cigarettes.”
Wheatley explained that cigarettes contain more than 4,000 chemicals including tars and carcinogens and that the only common ingredient between e-cigarettes and cigarettes is the nicotine.
“The other thing in cigarettes is tar with chemicals and all that other stuff but you’re balancing that off by switching it to the vaping product that has other chemicals in it, in addition to the nicotine so I see nothing to gain,” Anderson said.
The concentration of nicotine has been a point of concern for local officials. City and school officials who have spoken in favor of the tobacco and vaping ordinance cited concerns with underage children getting their hands on vape juices containing high concentrations of nicotine.
Though Wheatley doesn’t condone or agree with minors using e-cigarettes, he worries placing more restrictions will have an adverse effect.
“We were smoking cigarettes while I was in middle school. Do I condone it? Absolutely not, but at the same time it’s going to happen and the more that you restrict it the more people are going to find ways around it to do it,” Wheatley said.
A concern that both Anderson and Wheatley share revolves around the vape juice. For Anderson, he worries what is in the vapor being exhaled. As a vaper, Wheatley understands that concern.
“My stance has always been, if the FDA wants to regulate the juice and how it’s made and the facility that it’s made in, I’m okay with that,” Wheatley said. “The fact that if I’m going to vape this product, if I’m going to put it into a device and I’m going to inhale it I would feel much more comfortable knowing that it came from an ISO 6 lab and then it was done properly as opposed to something that somebody made in a crockpot in their kitchen.”
The Dawson County Commission will be looking to implement a countywide ordinance that will mirror the city’s ordinance so that both can be enforced by the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office.
The ordinances not only limit where individuals can use tobacco and vape products, but it also places some regulations on shops that sell tobacco and vape products – which includes service stations, liquor stores, smoke shops and vape shops – with the hopes of keeping the products away from those under 18.
As the debate continues on the legitimacy of e-cigarettes’ benefits and consequences, Anderson pondered a quote from Sir Alexander Cope: Never be the first to take up the new or the last to give up the old.
“When something new like vaping comes you should sit back and wait to see what’s going to happen and when it turns out that this is not a good idea don’t be the last to give it up,” Anderson said.
“I do feel like it is a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes. If I didn’t believe in it I wouldn’t own a shop and wouldn’t be expanding,” Wheatley said. “It’s not an epidemic. It’s a choice.”
** Editor’s note: This is the third of four articles in a series discussing vaping.