The stench of stale cigarettes and liquor fills the Las Vegas casino air. Suddenly, someone walks by puffing an abnormally thick cloud of smoke that disseminates in your direction, but it smells like pina colada instead of a typical cigarette.
Introduced in 2007 as the “safer” alternative to smoking cigarettes, e-cigarettes or vapor cigarettes have become increasingly popular among teens.
Vapes are comprised of a battery, an atomizer — which burns the e-liquid — and the e-liquid, which is made of organic compounds propylene glycol, vegetable glycol as well as nicotine. The e-juice is burned to produce vapor smoke.
In a recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of U.S. middle schoolers and high schoolers that have tried an e-cigarette has doubled from 4.7 percent in 2011 to 10 percent in 2012.
Vapes do not have tobacco, so they are not subject to U.S. tobacco laws, meaning the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate them. Moreover, vapes can contain nicotine, a highly addictive stimulant found in normal cigarettes.
Many doctors are concerned that vapes are encouraging nicotine addiction among young people because many vape companies generate flavors such as vanilla, bubblegum and passion fruit.
Local pulmonologist Dr. Hikmat Dadgar spoke in a recent interview about the effect of smoking normal cigarettes.
“The effect of smoking normal cigarettes is well documented,” he said. “Cigarettes have materials that can cause cancer in areas from the lips, esophagus and the pancreas.”
With 70 vape specialty shops in the Las Vegas Valley, there’s no question that vapes are popular.
Chris Modina and Peter Phat, co-owners of House of Vape on West Sahara Avenue, discussed the way in which e-cigarettes are reinforced through pop culture and have influenced young people.
“There are a lot of young smokers out there; I mean, college is the biggest time somebody picks up a cigarette,” Modina said. “Because of the mainstream introduction to the vaping culture, it has attracted a lot of younger people.”
Because vapes have nicotine they are not completely safe.
“You are still intaking something to your body, so it’s not 100 percent safe; it’s meant for people who are addicted to nicotine and it delivers that nicotine to them,” Modina said.
A common assertion about e-cigarettes is that they can be used to help people quit smoking. Twenty-six-year-old Tim Lin used to smoke a pack of cigarettes a week.
“Vapes are really helping me cut down on cigarettes,” he said. “I usually do about a cigarette a day, but I’m not as consistent with it as I used to be.”
However, according to Dadgar, e-cigarettes are tougher for medical specialists to determine the long-term effects.
“The main issue is no one knows what (other chemicals are) in them,” he said.
According to an anonymous student in the Clark County School District, high school and college students will generally pick up a cigarette or e-cigarette because they see their friends do it, or they may smoke because of stress.
The student said she sees young smokers use normal cigarettes as opposed to e-cigarettes.
“(Cigarettes are) cheaper at the first purchase — $5 for a pack versus $35 dollars,” she said. “It’s a sociable thing to have a lighter around.”
As she has tried both conventional cigarettes and e-cigarettes, the student offered some differences and similarities.
“The taste of tobacco is different, the feel of nicotine is stronger in e-cigarettes — when you’re puffing it, it’s lighter, but when you exhale, there’s more ‘oomph’ to it.”
As sales continue to increase among adolescents, discretion must be advised.
“Don’t play with fire until you get burned,” Dadgar said.