The Wrong Year to Quit Smoking?
How good are you at keeping New Year’s resolutions? 2017 has arrived and if you haven’t made up your mind on the bad habit you want to quit, you’re running out of time. Maybe you’ll give up starchy carbs or vow to stop being trampled over by your coworkers when that next promotion is up for grabs. Or like millions of others, this is really and truly the year you promise to give up smoking.
Can it happen?
Of course it can. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking rates have been plummeting for decades now. Its stats show that just under 17 percent of adult Americans were smokers in 2014. That’s a huge drop from more than 42 percent in 1965.
It can happen, but will it? One person isn’t convinced that trend will continue. “Cigarettes are making a comeback,” says Robert, a table games supervisor at the New York-New York resort on the Las Vegas Strip. He works on the casino floor, which unless you count the swimming pool, is the only area of the property where smoking is allowed. “It’s been banned in all the rooms,” says Robert. “They’ve even taken the matches out.”
A quick visit to the front desk confirms this information. None of the rooms offer a smoking option and if you get caught violating the policy, there’s a $300 “deep cleaning fee” added to your hotel bill. Smoking is even off-limits in the sportsbook, not to mention every restaurant and gift shop. It seems to be a bad time to take up cigarettes, but Robert says he’s seen more of them lately. He blames “new government regulations” that he believes are making alternatives like e-cigarettes more expensive.
It’s easy to see why he might have this viewpoint. In a ruling that went into effect this past August, the Federal Drug Administration expanded its oversight from not only cigarettes, but all other previously exempt tobacco products. That means e-cigarettes, vape pens, hookahs, pipe tobacco, all cigars and even nicotine gel now face additional scrutiny under the umbrella of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The new regulations include health warnings and a nationwide ban on sale to minors. Until now, minors had faced restrictions on a state-by-state basis.
However, some health experts have another explanation for any recent uptick in cigarette use. “I would argue the reason isn’t because of the cost,” says Maria Azzarelli, Tobacco Control Program Coordinator for the Southern Nevada Health District. She notes there hasn’t been any recent rules or regulations that have increased the price of electronic cigarettes or similar smoking tools. Azzarelli says people may be returning to cigarettes because of their strength. “What some of the national trends are showing is that people are going back to conventional cigarettes to get the nicotine their body is craving.” Traditional cigarettes are actually getting hit hardest when it comes to price. Tax on a pack is now $1.80 in the state of Nevada.
What we do know is that even as cigarette use drops overall, alternative smoking methods are expanding the base - notably with youngsters. “People who have never smoked conventional cigarettes before are using products like electronic cigarettes. It’s their entry point into nicotine addiction. That’s quite frightening,” says Azzarelli, who reports that just under six percent of Clark County high school students reported using conventional cigarettes in 2015. The same survey showed e-cigarette use by the same age group to be nearly 25 percent. Prevention groups have modified their educational materials to cover the changing trends. “People are under the impression these products are a safe alternative,” Azzarelli continues. “We already know electronic cigarettes contain materials that are classified as cancer causing agents.”
Dan Ross works behind the counter at D-Vapor & Pipe, a smoke shop near Jones and Warm Springs. It opened less than a year ago to take advantage of foot traffic from the Euphoria Wellness marijuana dispensary a few doors away. Ross says 99 percent of the vaping industry has no problem labeling its products. “If cigarette companies had to list every ingredient in a cigarette, they’re not going to have room on the box. There’s 400-plus chemicals in your average cigarette,” he says while gesturing towards packaged “juice” for vape pens and e-cigarettes. “This has got the VG (vegetable glycerin), the PG (propylene glycol), flavorings and nicotine. That’s it. And most of the flavorings come from the restaurant industry and have been around forever.”
Health experts would argue that there’s a difference between safer and safe - and putting anything other than air in your lungs is a bad idea. But Ross says vaping has other advantages. “If you smoke cigarettes, you’re going to smell like those cigarettes. You’re going to have nicotine stains. If you smoke indoors, your house is going to smell. This (vaporizer pen) is water vapor when it comes out. When you’re blowing that smoke out, it’s actually not smoke. It’s water and any smell it has dissipates in a few seconds. There’s no residue. It’s a lot cleaner.”
The push-and-pull battle over smoking has more dimensions than ever. It may be a tough year to be a tobacco smoker, but things are certainly looking up for marijuana users. Nevada legalized pot for medicinal use sixteen years ago but the legal path wasn’t cleared for dispensaries to open in the state until 2015. And while Nevada was on the losing end of the presidential race by going blue on election day, the state did manage to approve recreational marijuana by a comfortable margin. It’s a move that changes everything, even as the federal government tries its best to protect you and your health - from yourself.
Despite a growing number of states legalizing both the medicinal and recreational use of marijuana within their borders, the plant remains a Schedule I narcotic in the eyes of federal authorities. The classification, which applies to “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, recently expanded to include the cannabidiol hemp oil that’s used by families to treat children with seizures. The move angered those who support the medical benefits of cannabis. It’s a fierce debate that isn’t going away anytime soon.
“Marijuana smoke can also cause lung cancer. People need to be aware of that,” argues Azzarelli. Both of the plants, marijuana and tobacco, are very oily and create tar buildup in the lungs. In fact, the marijuana plant has more tar concentration than the tobacco plant.” She concedes that tobacco manufacturers add more chemicals to their products but stresses that “smoking of any kind isn’t good for the lungs.”
Think long and hard about your goals for 2017. It may not be a matter of choosing a healthy lifestyle as much as choosing the right fix. You need something to take the edge off. (You always have, after all.) And while a gym membership is a better tool to channel your daily frustrations, you may not have cigarettes around for much longer. At least not in your hotel room. And while e-cigarettes, vape pens, hookahs and marijuana are riding a growing wave of momentum, who knows that the future will hold when it comes to new regulations and a DEA operating under a Trump administration over the next four-to-eight years.
It’s a new year and a new America. If you’re looking to kill yourself with chemicals, put some thought into your weapon of choice. The landscape could be even more confusing in 2018.