BANGOR, Maine — In its latest effort to keep people from vaping, Bangor Public Health and Community Services has launched a new campaign designed to warn the public of the potential health hazards of electronic cigarettes.
The new campaign targets both children and adults throughout the Bangor area and includes public service announcements for television, radio and Internet. Electronic cigarettes are battery-operated devices that use a small heating element to vaporize liquid nicotine and other substances, which are inhaled by the user.
“While there are still many unknowns about the risks and possible benefits of e-cigarettes and vape devices, we do know these products have the potential to negatively impact young people,” said BPHCS Health Promotion Manager Jamie Comstock.
At a cost of nearly $10,000, the campaign is funded through grants from Healthy Maine Partnerships and the federal Drug-Free Communities Program, according to Robin Carr-Slauenwhite, Bangor public health’s substance abuse prevention coordinator.
According to Comstock, manufacturers of vaping devices are attempting to re-normalize smoking culture by marketing vaping products as a safe alternative and by targeting young people with candy flavored e-liquids and celebrity endorsements.
“Exposure to nicotine may affect brain development and lead to nicotine addiction,” she said.
The campaign offers “toolkits” for local schools that include anti-vaping materials such as posters and sample language for anti-vaping policies.
According to a survey released in April by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, electronic cigarette use by middle and high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014.
In all, about 2 million high school students and 450,000 middle school students said they had vaped at least once in the past 30 days, the CDC reports.
Asked about the new campaign, Dustin Fitzpatrick, owner of Vapeway, a vaping shop in Bangor, said the liquid used in vaping devices — known as e-liquid or e-juice — contains only four ingredients, compared to more than 4,000 substances contained in cigarette smoke.
“Mathematically, when a lot of people will say that vaping is 10 times more dangerous than smoking cigarettes, that’s almost impossible,” he said.
The CDC reports that propylene glycol is generally considered safe and is contained in many foods, drugs and cosmetics.
However, the Mayo Clinic Nicotine Dependence Center reports that there is no long-term safety data showing the impact of repeated inhalation of propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin on lung tissue.
Fitzpatrick said he smoked a pack of cigarettes a day until he switched to vaping more than two years ago.
Since then, he says he has personally experienced the health benefits of vaping as opposed to smoking, feeling increased lung capacity, increased energy, improved senses of taste and smell and fewer bouts of cold and flu.
“We have converted very many smokers who have been extremely satisfied with the results that they’ve seen from quitting smoking and switching to vaping,” Fitzpatrick said.
Both Comstock and BPHCS Director Patty Hamilton have said publicly that studies on the health effects of vaping are conflicting, but Hamilton said in June she would rather err on the side of caution when it comes to vaping.
In January, a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine said researchers had detected formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, when they tested an electronic cigarette at high voltages.
But one of the authors has since disputed media reports that claimed the paper meant vaping was more dangerous than traditional cigarettes, saying no such statement was made by the researchers.
The researchers reported no formaldehyde was found when they tested the device at lower voltages but advised users should not assume safety when it comes to vaping.
The new campaign comes after members of the Bangor City Council discussed in June an ordinance that would prohibit vaping in all areas where smoking is currently banned under state law.
Hamilton said this week that the city is abandoning that proposed ordinance since the Maine Legislature added vaping to the state’s smoking laws this year.
Unlike the state law, the Bangor ordinance would have banned smoking and vaping within 20 feet of playgrounds and picnic areas in all city parks. Both activities are currently allowed in city parks.
Follow Evan Belanger on Twitter at @evanbelanger.