Aug 21 2013
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Recommended Reading: A Closer Look at E-Cigarettes

“Are they harm reduction or are they smoking cessation? It’s a tough situation because, on the one hand, you have what it does and on the other you have the claims are that are allowable under the law. It’s a strange situation where they are being regulated as tobacco products. But they are not tobacco products. There’s no tobacco in them.”

Many hard facts about e-cigarettes are still unclear. What is clear is that marketers are pushing hard to make the switch from smoking to “vaping” an ongoing trend. In the above quote from a TechCrunch article, Michael Siegel, MD, Professor at Boston University’s Public School of Health, mulled over some very real concerns about where we’re heading in terms of e-cigarette regulation.

The current debate between the manufactures and public health experts surrounds the health impacts of the nicotine product. The e-cigarette “boom” began around 2007, starting first with smaller companies. After making a dent in cigarette sales—unlike cessation therapies such as the patch and gums—tobacco companies took notice and are starting to jump onboard.

Today e-cigarettes are especially rising in popularity among what some may consider the “hip” crowd. From a recent article in The New York Times:

“Tattooed Web designers and writers chain-smoke at their desks at the Vice offices in Williamsburg. Models inhale at No. 8, a Chelsea lounge, as they order Champagne. Leonardo DiCaprio has been spotted smoking an e-cigarette at several clubs and while riding a Citi Bike in SoHo.”

But, going back to Siegel’s thought: Are e-cigarettes helping people quit cigarettes, and all tobacco in time? Or are they giving a new product—and health issues—to people who might not otherwise smoke?

Much of the current marketing for e-cigarettes has highlighted the ways in which it can detract smokers from using real tobacco cigarettes, subtly suggesting them as a cessation technique. But, as highlighted in extensive research by the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, “The efficacy of e-cigarettes as an aid for sustained smoking cessation has not yet been proven.”

With e-cigarettes only on the market for the last several years, there is simply not yet enough research to show their health effects. Preliminary studies of the short-term effects of using e-cigarettes, commonly referred to as “vaping,” point toward similar effects of tobacco smoking, including increasing airway resistance after using the device for five minutes.

This raises the question of regulation. Concerns about the regulation of e-cigarettes have made their way to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). According to an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, the agency has not yet provided any details on how it plans to regulate the devices—other than to treat them as tobacco products.

More than a dozen states have already taken matters into their own hands by banning e-cigarette sales to minors, including Arkansas, Colorado and Maryland. Others have banned their use in enclosed spaces. Some questions confronting federal regulators as e-cigarettes become more popular include whether they could serve as a gateway for youth to traditional cigarettes; what age restrictions and warnings might look like; and how advertising to youth should be regulated.

Tags: Tobacco, Tobacco cessation, Tobacco control, Public Health , Tobacco, Food and Drug Administration