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E-Cigarettes: A Local Doctor Worries They Could Make Smoking Seem Cool Again


The rising use of e-cigarettes among teenagers has doctors worried about long-term health risks and calling for more regulation of the devices.

Dr. David Balis, a professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center, says e-cigarettes use nicotine and dangerous pollutants that can get into the lungs. Lack of government regulation means product standards can vary from one e-cigarette maker to another.

But worse, the product is heavily marketed to young people.

"We don’t want smoking to be cool again as it was a long time ago," Balis says. "Our concern is we’re going to get a whole generation hooked on nicotine and it’ll be a gateway drug and they'll move to cigarettes and become smokers."

Balis also heads smoking cessation programs at UT Southwestern’s Simmons Cancer Center and at Parkland Hospital.

Interview Highlights

On uses of e-cigs: Initially, we thought e-cigs might be helpful in getting people to quit traditional cigarettes, but the data hasn’t borne that out. What we found is that people are just using this as a another nicotine delivery device. They smoke in the morning at home. They can’t smoke traditional cigarettes at work, so they use e-cigarettes at work, and then they go home and smoke traditional cigarettes again. So, they’re just continuing their nicotine addiction with these e-cigarettes since they’re more acceptable now in public places, but they’re not actually quitting.

On perception of e-cigs: Some feel it’s a safe alternative to smoking, but there are still many concerns with e-cigs. We’ve done a great job of reducing the incidence of smoking in general, but the main concern we have is that the use in our younger generation has skyrocketed. We don’t want smoking to be cool again as it was a long time ago. Our concern is we’re going to get a whole generation hooked on nicotine and it’ll be a gateway drug and move to cigarettes and become smokers.

Health concerns about e-cigs: The combustible cigarette has a lot of poisons and toxins that you get by the combustion process. The e-cigs are probably safer, but you're still inhaling a vapor into your lungs and pollutants that you get into your lungs that we know are dangerous. With the heating process, there are some carcinogens that people are being exposed to and inhaling in their lungs.

On FDA regulation of e-cigs: We’ve been wanting te FDA to regulate these e-cigarettes because the FDA now has control over nicotine, and many of us have been frustrated by how slow this process has been. You have no idea what you’re getting with e-cigarettes. There are so many different makers, so many different types. One of things that we’re asking for is tighter regulation so people know what they’re getting.


Interview responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.