You see the signs in almost every strip mall now, touting “Vape” and “E-cigs.”
The largely unregulated electronic cigarette industry has exploded, with a projected $2 billion in sales this year. Some analysts even think that e-cigarettes – battery-powered devices that deliver nicotine in a smokable vapor – could overtake regular cigarette sales in the next decade, especially since Big Tobacco is getting into the business in a big way.
So it’s completely appropriate for the Food and Drug Administration – which has authority over tobacco products – to propose rules over e-cigarettes that would make it harder for minors to get the products and better inform users about the chemicals they’re inhaling. Ideally, however, the FDA would be moving faster on getting control over products that show too much promise in luring young people into nicotine habits.
Indeed, 10 percent of high school students tried “vaping” in 2013; that’s twice as many as the year before. And manufacturers seem to be targeting young people with fruit and candy flavors and giving away samples at concerts and sporting events.
The FDA’s proposed rules announced last week would prohibit sales to minors, free samples and sales in vending machines accessible to kids, but still would allow Internet sales and television advertising.
Important inroads have been made in discouraging underage smoking; that’s important because people who haven’t gotten hooked by age 18 are unlikely to develop a habit. Much progress against nicotine addiction could be overturned if e-cigarettes become more acceptable gateway drug-delivery devices.
An important FDA requirement is that e-cigarette makers will have to register their products and reveal the ingredients vapers are inhaling. While e-cigs don’t contain tobacco or some of the other dangerous chemicals in regular cigarettes, they’re not completely safe.
Vapers still get a dose of the addictive drug nicotine, derived from tobacco, and one recent study suggests that the nicotine vapor may be carcinogenic. Another study found formaldehyde and acetone in exhaled vapor. More research needs to be done on the effect of “secondhand vapor” on nonusers.
Supporters of vaping claim that e-cigarettes are useful in helping smokers quit regular cigarettes. But so far no research supports that; in fact, one small study, published recently in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, found that smokers who used e-cigarettes were no more likely to kick the habit after a year than those who didn’t use the devices.
It may, indeed, turn out that e-cigarettes are less lethal than regular cigarettes. If smokers switch to them, it could be a huge public health win. So the FDA’s rules should strike a balance to encourage that switch while discouraging vaping among young people. Nothing positive is achieved by having minors getting addicted to nicotine, however it is delivered.