GLEN ROSE – For centuries, burning tobacco has traditionally been how people have gotten their nicotine fix, but over the last few years a battery-powered challenger to the traditional cigarette has burst onto the scene. 

In recent years e-cigarettes have increased in popularity. The battery-operated devices simulate the feel of smoking without the use of tobacco and allow users to inhale a vapor e-liquid - known as vaping - instead of smoke.

The e-liquid is comprised of a vegetable glycerin or propylene glycol base, flavoring, nicotine and other substances. The user's ability to control the nicotine level, or even chose to not vape with nicotine is what sets vaping a part from the standard death stick.

Glen Rose residents, Suzanne and Justin Whitewood have owned Great Vapes, an e-cigarette store located in Granbury for two and a half years. The couple opened the shop to help people kick their cigarette-smoking habit.

“It helped me stop smoking within the first day and it helped [Justin’s] dad, who smoked for 55 years, get off of smoking traditional tobacco and we wanted to be able to help people not smoke,” Suzanne said. “It’s an easier alternative to quitting [cold turkey].”

A study published in 2014 by the British journal, The Lancet, found that 7.3-percent-of-the-657 people in the study quit smoking using e-cigarettes. The number was 5.8 percent more than those who quit while using the patch.

Studies on the effectiveness of using e-cigarettes as an aid to quit smoking are still in their infancy, but that hasn’t stopped the customers of Great Vapes in seeing the device as a cession tool in their quest to kick the habit.

Beth, a patron of Great Vapes, started smoking when she was 13 years old. She decided to give vaping a chance to help fight the smoking urge, and, after five years of her new habit, Beth has been cigarette free for nearly three years. She added that now she can’t stand the flavor or taste of cigarettes.

Beth isn’t the only person who started smoking at an early age.

A 2012 report by the Surgeon General stated that about three million high school students smoked cigarettes. In October 2015, Texas passed a law banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. Even though minors could vape prior to the law change, the Whitewoods’ have always reserved the right to refuse to sell to anyone under the age of 18 in their shop.

Currently, e-cigarettes are unregulated by the FDA. With it being such a new form of nicotine product, there haven’t been many studies conducted on the risks associated with using them.

“I smoked cigarettes for two years and cigars for six and you hear of a lot less people getting cancer from vaping,” one customer of Great Vapes stated.

While vaping has risen in popularity, cigarette smoking is still the main source of nicotine use. The consequences of its use are deadly and there are findings that states around the country are failing to protect people from cigarette smoke.

Recently, the American Lung Association released its 14th annual “State of Tobacco Control” report and it found that in 2015 Texas failed to enact tobacco control policies that will save lives. The report evaluates tobacco control policies at the state and federal level and assigns grades based on whether laws protect citizens from the toll that tobacco use takes or has taken on their lives.

Texas received a failing grade on all of the policies that are in place to help prevent deaths from tobacco use.

Those policies include tobacco prevention and control program funding, tobacco taxes, smoke free air, and access to cessation services.

“Elected officials need to look at increasing funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs, increase the current cigarette tax by at least $1.00 per pack and pass a statewide comprehensive smoke free law,” said executive director of the American Lung Association in Texas, Holly Torres in a statement released after the findings.

One issue that was also addressed in the report was the lack of secondhand smoke protection in workplaces. Texas is one of 22 states that have yet to pass comprehensive smoke-free workplace laws. The CDC stated that the workplace is a major source of secondhand smoke exposure to adults.

Since the 1964 Surgeon General’s report on the dangers of secondhand smoke, 2.5 million non-smoking Americans have died from secondhand smoke. Some health conditions caused by secondhand smoke include cardiovascular disease and lung cancer.

Restaurant workers, bartenders and casino employees are particularly unlikely to be protected by smoke-free policies. The American Cancer Society found that employees who worked full-time in restaurants or bars that allowed indoor smoking were exposed to levels of air pollution four times higher than the safe annual levels established by the EPA.

One would imagine that working in a vape shop would create exposure to secondhand smoke, but Suzanne explained that with e-cigarettes, that isn’t the case.

“All of the nicotine is absorbed in your body whenever you inhale it, so you’re not getting any kind of second hand [exposure],” she said.

A 2014 study conducted by the National Institute of Cancer Research in Milan, Italy found that secondhand smoke from e-cigarettes has an overall decrease in harmful particles and almost no organic carcinogens, which is likely due to the fact that they do not burn organic material the way that traditional cigarettes do. It should be noted that the study found that e-cigarette smoke did contain chromium - a toxic element that is not found in traditional cigarettes - and nickel levels four times higher than normal cigarettes.

Suzanne and her customer, Beth both used e-cigarettes as a cession tools. Although Medicaid and most insurance plans cover medication and counseling to help those quit smoking, the States’ report found that people encounter barriers when trying to utilize these services. For those on Medicaid, they face co-payments for both medications and counseling, and being that they are on Medicaid most can’t afford the co-pays. People who have private insurance are faced with limitations on how often in a calendar year they can utilize services.

Texas wasn’t alone in receiving a failing grade. Most states and the federal government earned poor grades in the report.

“It’s not a secret how we can reduce tobacco use in this country,” [...] said Torres in the release. “We must demand that our elected officials in Texas urgently act to implement these proven policies to save lives.”

The lack of enforced policies is a battle that will continue to be fought by those that are passionate about fighting tobacco related deaths and diseases.