As part of a plan to regulate electronic (“e-”) cigarettes, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a new requirement for manufacturers to print warnings on the devices and disclose their ingredients.
In 2011, the FDA was given the authority to regulate under tobacco laws but has not exercised that authority up to now. The National Association of Attorneys General is now calling on the FDA to include regulation of the advertising and sale of e-cigarettes.
1. What are E-Cigarettes?
An e-cigarette looks like a regular cigarette, other than the rainbow of colors available. Powered by a lithium battery, when you take a drag—or “vape”–a heating element boils liquid within the cartridge of the cigarette until vapor is produced which is then inhaled, delivering the nicotine and other chemicals. A tiny LED light at the end turns red to duplicate the look and feel of a traditional cigarette.
2. The Initial Cost Can Be Quite Expensive for Some.
One e-cigarette costs between $30 and $100 with replacement cartridges going for around $600. The price, then, is much less than the yearly $1000+ at one pack of tobacco cigarettes per day. It’s estimated by the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association that currently 4 million Americans use them.
Do They Help Tobacco Smokers Quit?
There are proponents for e-cigarettes on both sides of the issue; some say it is a useful tool to help smokers of tobacco to quit, others contend that it is a gateway to tobacco use for those who don’t already partake. Let’s explore both.
E-cigarettes contain nicotine, among other things, which is the addictive drug in tobacco. Smokers of tobacco can get their fix from the electronic version without the other harmful effects of traditional cigarettes. There has not been significant research to substantiate the claim that e-smokes are an aid in smoking cessation; one study documented last fall in the medical journal Lancet compared using them to nicotine patches and other approaches to quit smoking. The result showed them all comparable over a six-month period. This may be encouraging but unless manufacturers prove they help tobacco smokers to quit, they can’t receive approval from the FDA to market them as medical devices.
3. E-Cigs Contain Much Less Toxins Than Regular Tobacco Cigarettes.
In addition to nicotine, e-cigarettes contain flavoring, propylene glycol, and other ingredients. The most noted study of the safety of these contraptions found trace elements of hazardous chemicals including the main ingredient in antifreeze. If you compare the nine contaminates identified in the study to the over 11,000 in a typical tobacco cigarette, however, they appear miniscule. Only two brands of e-cigarette were included in the research so it would be dangerous to extrapolate based on such a small sample. Erika Seward, Assistant Vice President of National Advocacy for the American Lung Association voices her concern:
“To say they are all safe because a few have been shown to contain fewer toxins is troubling. We also don’t know how harmful trace levels can be.”
Director of Science and Trends at the American Cancer Society Thomas Glynn says e-cigarettes will probably prove much less harmful overall than tobacco cigarettes—perhaps for the short term. “As for long-term effects, we don’t know what happens when you breathe the vapor into the lungs regularly,” he said. “No one knows the answer to that.”
Now for the other side of the coin.
4. E-Cigs Just as ‘Evil’ as Big Tobacco When it Comes to Marketing.
Manufacturers, of course, don’t admit that they market specifically to young people and most e-cigarette companies don’t sell to minors. The products speak for themselves: there are over 250 brands that come in a wide variety of colors and flavors, including coffee, fruit, and bubble gum. The statistics also speak: use of e-cigs among middle and high school students is increasing, having doubled between 2011 and 2012. One study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that almost 1.8 million teens had tried vaping. ABC News’ Chief Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser put it succinctly, “Data show use of e-cigarettes by high school and junior high school students is on the rise. Once addicted to nicotine, will users move on to using tobacco with all the inherent health risks?”
This is another critical concern for Erika Seward:
“With e-cigarettes, we see a new product within the same industry–tobacco—using the same old tactics to glamorize their products. They use candy and fruit flavors to hook kids, they make implied health claims to encourage smokers to switch to their product instead of quitting altogether, and they sponsor research to use that as a front for their claims.”
We can only hope that FDA regulations will at least serve to educate the smoking public.