SALT LAKE CITY — Brad Parsons has smoked cigarettes for 38 years, and for much of that time he was using as much as 2 ½ packs per day.
However, with the help of electronic cigarettes sold at his two Utah VaporLoc locations, Parsons has experienced waking up without coughing spells and hiking without shortness of breath in Utah's plentiful mountain landscapes.
"Physiologically, my body is saying, 'Thank you very much for making the switch,'" he told members of Utah's Health and Human Services Interim Committee on Wednesday.
Parsons said he has more than 1,000 customers who also believe e-cigarettes have helped them curb their habit.
"They've tried the patch. They've tried the gum. They've tried everything else. This is the only thing that works," he said.
Parsons is hoping prospective regulation — both locally and federally — won't squash potential for the electronic vaporizers to act as cessation devices for individuals addicted to the nicotine in cigarettes.
The committee, on behalf of the state, is in the process of drafting a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in support of the federal agency's intent to regulate the devices and cartridges containing nicotine.
The cause is led by Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, chairman of the committee, who claims his primary motive is "to get these out of the hands of children."
"Quit blaming the parents," he said, scolding industry representatives at Wednesday's meeting. "It's accessible. It's out there. It's getting into the hands of kids."
Ray said he wants to ban popular flavors of vapor cartridges, which he said are enticing kids to use e-cigarettes. And he supports the placement of an addiction warning on the products, as does the committee.
Parsons said few customers prefer e-cigarette cartridges with "regular tobacco flavoring" or menthol, similar to what they smoked in cigarettes. He said adults like the available options as much as kids would.
"My clients stopped smoking," Parsons said. "They went off traditional cigarettes. They don't want to smell that anymore."
The Utah Legislature has not passed any legislation that would regulate electronic cigarette use or sales in the state, but it has designated the vaporizing products similar to tobacco, which is regulated and not permitted to be sold to individuals under age 19 in Utah.
Without state or federal regulation, local municipalities are taking action on the vaping trend. Davis County in February adopted rules limiting the amount of nicotine in e-cigarette cartridges, as well as the sale to minors. Local regulations also require the liquid to have childproof caps and clear labeling of its contents.
Other municipalities and health departments, including Bear River, are considering approval of their own rules regarding electronic cigarettes.
Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, cautioned that the committee's support should only be for sales regulations and enforcement and not anything that would potentially limit further research on the product, as little remains known about the addiction potential of electronic cigarettes and their use in helping with smoking cessation.
"We should encourage scientific research on this," Greene said, adding that allowing the products to be advertised and sold for cessation purposes, "if and when it becomes proven for that," should be acceptable.
The FDA will accept state comments on the matter until July 9. The Utah committee intends to participate, including signatures from its chairmen and quite possibly the committee as a whole, if the time permits.
Parsons is still smoking the nicotine-equivalent of about four cigarettes a day, but he said he feels better getting it the electronic way.
And while he doesn't peddle electronic cigarettes as a cessation device, he believes it helped him get away from his lifelong smoking habit.
"My body is telling me it is much better," Parsons said. "I can go hiking in the mountains. I don't wake up every morning coughing up a lung. I don't wake up coughing at all."
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