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Nicotine is so addictive, research into the possible health effects of e-cigs is essential. Don’t count on an emerging industry to get it done.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
E-cigarettes might prove a game-changer in the tobacco industry, though whether the absence of smoke signals a better future for traditional cigarette makers or threatens to snuff them out isn’t clear.
The latter can be said of their customers, as well. E-cigs are new enough that no one has fully researched their health effects.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is moving to regulate them as drug-delivery devices, the drug being liquid nicotine, but its authority to do so is not clear, either.
Since 2009, when Congress empowered the FDA to regulate the content and marketing of traditional tobacco products, manufacturers have been trying to find a way to provide nicotine to the addicted without risking the deadly harm to customers that smoking presents.
In this age of e-commerce, e-cigs appear to be lighting the way. So much so that Henrico County-based Altria Group — parent company of Philip Morris USA and the No. 1 cigarette maker in the U.S. — started test marketing its own e-product in Indiana this month.
E-cigs are being marketed as an alternative to smoking, a smaller, lighter, less expensive version of earlier technologies that tried to deliver the pleasures of nicotine without the tar and cancer-causing chemicals that smokers inhale with every puff. A smokeless smoke, as it were.
An e-cig is a battery-powered device that looks a lot like a cigarette, but doesn’t burn tobacco or anything else. When “vapers” (not “smokers”; this is a new product with a lexicon of its own) puff on an e-cig, they heat a cartridge of liquid nicotine, creating a vaporous, odorless mist that is inhaled and exhaled. We are told it looks just like smoke.
Some vapers say the e-cig helps them smoke less. Some say it helped them give it up altogether — not the nicotine, but the smoking. They maintain it is a healthful alternative. But the jury is out on that.
Since e-cig devices do not use tobacco, their content and marketing have not been regulated by the FDA. But no one has fully researched the health effects of pure nicotine on its users or on those exposed to it secondhand.
The e-cig mimics its tobacco counterpart in marketing, as well. Its advertising doesn’t target children, but manufacturers offer nicotine cartridges in flavors appealing to the kiddies: chocolate, strawberry, bubblegum.
The public interest would be served by FDA oversight of both.
Imagine the market potential of a product that could deliver all of the comfort of nicotine without the harmful side-effects. It’s no wonder that Altria and the nation’s other tobacco giants, upstart e-cig makers at their heels, are taking to the field of battle.
Someone needs to assure it doesn’t become littered with the bodies of new generations of unwary consumers. That’s where regulators come in.
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