We knew this day was coming. California health officials have declared the popular e-cigarettes a public health threat. The officials join the growing ranks of health officials who are sounding the alarm over the devices. Critics are pushing back against claims by advocating the devices offer a safe alternative to quitting smoking.

California released some light reading in the form of a 21-page report decrying the dangers of ‘vaping.’ Its intention is to correct ‘misinformation’ of e-cigarettes as a healthy alternative to smoking.

Advocacy groups maintain the devices help people quit traditional tobacco, but state officials push back on any ‘evidence’ the ‘vape pens’ or ‘e-hookahs’ offer any tangible benefits. Instead, they are being used to avoid the stigma of traditional smoking.

California has been enjoying a precipitous drop in smoking rates. It stands at 11.7 percent, second to only Utah. E-cigarette use has jumped, especially among the younger generation. The rate among 19-29 year olds has jumped from 2,3 percent to 7.6 percent in 2013.

In a media call on Wednesday, Dr. Ron Chapman of the Public Health Department sounded the alarm over the rise. “E-cigarettes represent a new public health challenge and threaten to undo and reverse the progress we’ve made by renormalizing smoking behavior.”

Poison centers are also seeing a rise in calls related to ‘vape juice.’ In 2012, seven calls were reported for children under the age of five. 2014? The call volume had jumped to 154.

E-cigarettes, or vape pens, are battery-operated devices. They look like cigarettes, and heat up nicotine to an aerosol form. Flavors range from bubblegum to gummy bears – both of which contain nicotine. Marijuana can also be vaped.

The vaping industry is not taking the report lightly.

“This report inappropriately paints this complex and important public health topic as a black-and-white issue,” said Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, which represents the vaping industry. “Despite the health officer’s false claims, there is ample evidence that vaping helps smokers quit and is far less hazardous than smoking.”

Dr. Chapman does dial back his criticism away from e-cigarettes being just as dangerous. “From all the evidence we have so far, e-cigarettes are not as harmful as conventional cigarettes, but e-cigarettes are not harmless,” he said. “They’re not safe.”

A perfect world? No one uses the devices. But, this is a free country with people able to make their own decision. Banning sales to minors is an appropriate step, and one the vape industry will support.

More research needs to be done. The commercialization has far outstripped the ability of science to keep up.

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