MIAMI - Maritza Lopez, of Coconut Grove, allowed her daughter to experiment with electronic cigarettes and the Persian inspired hookah flavors -- apple, mint, cherry, coconut and watermelon.
But that changed Thursday after she learned the Food and Drug Administration finally paid attention to related cases of e-cigarette poisoning and the lack of transparency on the chemicals in the liquid nicotine, solvents and flavors used. Lopez, 35, said she felt sad. She didn't know the health risks were "so bad."
Lopez started "vaping" the battery operated "e-cigs" as a smoking cessation method about a year ago. Her daughter Natalia, 16, told her about her love of the bubble gum "e-juice" flavor, which she didn't know had propylene glycol. They tried the green tea menthol flavor together. Lopez is still struggling to stop smoking.
"There have been no large scientific studies to show that using an e-cigarette will ultimately be safer than using a regular cigarette," Local 10 News medical expert Dr. Ari Soffer said Thursday.
Health experts growing wary of the e-cig were succeeding this week. "Vaping Vamps" girls and "Vaping Ape" boys may not be legal any more in Florida. Lawmakers were making it difficult for kids to have access, while the feds were moving to get manufacturers to stop claiming the product is safe.
Sales bans to minors at convenience stores, gas stations and vending machines were in effect in some South Florida cities. But all it takes is a prepaid credit card or virtual currency like Bitcoins for children and teenagers to get to the e-cigarettes and its accessories like refill cartridges and flavors online.
Inspired on the Persian and Indian hookah pens of the 1960s, a Chinese company named Ruyan introduced the e-cig in 2007 and now the industry is growing. The Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association said annual sales had crossed the billion mark.
Also, the cost for consumers was much lower than that of cigarette smokers and had far less toxins, the association claims. However, researchers found hazardous compounds, including a chemical which is the main ingredient found in antifreeze.
Like with synthetic marijuana and evolving synthetic drugs, the e-cigarette technology is moving faster than the studies to determine its health risks. As the variety of flavors change, so do the chemicals additives.
Lopez fears some of these chemicals may be carcinogens. The American Cancer Society wants the sale of the product to stop.
The growing e-cig industry is already hurting kids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported poison control centers logged 215 calls involving e-cigarettes in February alone. Of those calls, 51 percent involved children.
The age limit is expected to be at least 18, although states could set it higher. And manufacturers will be required to avoid giving free samples, and to provide health warnings about the risk of addiction.
Also of concern are a few reports of e-cigarettes that have exploded, while users were charging the batteries. Earlier this year Joe Vecchione was injured at his home, firefighters extinguished a blaze at a bar and a few days ago Kim Taylor's car was damaged.
Experts say parents should also be concerned that the e-cigarette use may lead their kids to smoking cigarettes or synthetic marijuana as adults.
Dr. Soffer said that the safest bet is to ask kids to stay away from nicotine all together.
"Nicotine is harmful to a variety of organs not the least of which is your one and only heart," Soffer said.
Lopez said she is going to try to quit using it herself, and when she talks to her daughter she is "going to put the rules on the table." The single-mom said she feels ashamed. She was determined to keep her daughter away from addictions, she said, and she failed.
"We do what we can to protect our kids and be their best friends and some how you still make mistakes," Lopez said in tears. "I'm glad I know what I know now. I'm going to get her to stop."
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