Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) have been marketed by manufacturers as the healthier alternative to real cigarettes, and have received a rather warm welcome from individuals who have been trying to wean themselves from tobacco. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not happy.
E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that are filled with nicotine liquid and heat up, creating a vapor that can then be inhaled like traditional cigarettes. Manufacturers and advocates say that they are less dangerous than traditional tobacco cigarettes and can help smokers quit the habit. However, some health experts are worried that the devices can actually initiate former non-smokers into eventually smoking real cigarettes over time.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has mentioned that young people using e-cigarettes doubled between 2011 and 2013. Despite e-cigarettes, over 3,200 people a day younger than 18 try their first real cigarette. Adult smoking rates, on the other hand, have fallen to 18 percent, from 43 percent in 1965, prompting the authorities to worry that the problem could not be adults trying to quit smoking but young people starting the habit.
Some analysts believe that the e-cigarette industry may eventually overtake the $80 billion tobacco industry, as more and more people switch to the tobacco-less option. Consumer Reports said that in 2012 alone, sales of e-cigarettes was at $500 million, and the number was further raised to an estimated $ 1.5 billion in 2013. In the meantime, sales of tobacco products have been falling due, in part, to strict regulation.
In the midst of the growing popularity of e-cigarettes, the Los Angeles City Council's Rules and Elections Committee believe that some ingredients in e-cigarettes are harmful to health, and have therefore pushed that the manufacture and distribution of e-cigarettes be regulated. In 2013, the council voted to prohibit sales of e-cigarettes to minors, and have since been exploring other locations and age groups from which the products can be banned.
An argument to regulate e-cigarette stems from the fact that the chemical composition of e-cigarettes still vary, owing to its relative newness to the market, and because they remain unregulated, no one can pronounce a definite ruling on their implications to health.
Manufacturers and supporters of e-cigarettes have naturally reacted against this proposed move, pushing for further studies instead before doing anything decisive and permanent. Some health practitioners said that e-cigarettes are actually aids in reducing or quitting smoking of real cigarettes, because the electronic versions do not contain burning harmful chemicals. The experts, however, cannot make a definitive statement.
"Right now we don't have as much information as we would like," said Dr. Cathy McDonald in an interview with HuffingtonPost. She runs a center for Tobacco Dependence, Treatment and Cessation for Alameda County in California. She further explained that all the researchers know is that "ten minutes of smoking an e-cigarette for a person who has never smoked a cigarette does cause a noticeable increase in airway resistance in the lungs."
Nevertheless, clamor against e-cigarettes seem to be growing more powerful, as the FDA has proposed a rule that would allow the agency to regulate electronic cigarettes as they do for tobacco products.
In 2009, through the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, the FDA was granted the authority to regulate certain tobacco and cigarette products, as well as the power to decide which tobacco products should be under its jurisdiction for regulation or prohibition. Manufacturers of e-cigarettes justify that they should be exempt from the regulations. In November and December 2013, over 35 organizations, composed of e-cigarette makers and distributors, tobacco companies, trade associations, physician groups, public health advocated, lawyers, and lobbyists, went to the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to demonstrate their protest.
The OMB has been reviewing the rule proposed by the FDA to bring e-cigarettes under its jurisdiction. As a regulated device, the e-cigarette companies could be required to register, pay fees, list their ingredients, seek approval for new products, and restrict sales.
However, the outlook is not completely bleak for these e-cigarette companies and their advocates.
"It's not just a matter of a blanket dropping in of the current regulations over additional products," said Diane Canova, vice president of government affairs at the anti-tobacco American Legacy Foundation, "Some of the current restrictions may not fit."