Electronic cigarettes are not new, but the e-cig industry suddenly has a new feel. In early May the U.S. Food and Drug Administration flexed its muscles and extended its authority to include all tobacco products, including e-cigs.
Here is a look at why the FDA created the new e-cig regulations, why they are necessary and what they hope to accomplish.
Why the FDA Took Action
E-cigarettes use vapor as opposed to smoke, but for the FDA that makes no difference. The agency says that no matter the form, tobacco use is a significant public threat.
The group says that smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S., responsible for nearly half a million deaths a year. However, this applies to smoking, not vapor, so why a push to regulate e-cigs?
The answer is twofold.
First, the effects of e-cig vapors and emissions are still unknown, according to the American Lung Association. It would make sense that vapor is less harmful to the body than smoke, but e-cigs still use nicotine and the overall effects are still being examined.
Second, the FDA is concerned about the explosion in use of e-cigs among minors. An FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that e-cig use among high school students went up from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 16 percent last year, an increase of more than 900 percent.
Before the FDA extended its authority to include e-cigs, no regulations prohibited their sale to minors.
Why Youths Like E-Cigs
A 2014 survey from the CDC found that 9.2 percent of high school students said they smoked a cigarette in the last month, while 13.4 percent said they’d used an e-cigarette. This survey marked the first time regular cigarettes fell behind other forms of tobacco use among youngsters.
One reason why younger people like e-cigs? Many of them don’t view using e-cigs as equivalent to smoking.
Also, many believe e-cigarettes are more popular among younger people simply because they’re a newer product. Youths may also be attracted to the wide variety of flavors that e-cigarettes offer.
Why Regulation Is Necessary
The perception may be that because e-cigarettes don’t use smoke, they’re not as harmful as regular cigarettes. However, this doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous.
E-cigs do still contain nicotine, which itself can be dangerous for anybody, particularly young people. They can also contain various chemicals. Tests of some products have found e-cig vapor to contain carcinogens and toxic chemicals including formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, as well as potentially toxic metal nanoparticles.
Put simply, there isn’t yet enough information available on e-cigs to determine how safe or unsafe they are in relation to traditional tobacco products such as cigarettes or cigars.
There is also some belief that e-cigs can serve as a “gateway” to use of traditional cigarettes, for which the many dangers are well known.
What the Rules Establish
The FDA’s new rules go into effect in early August (90 days after the May announcement). Here is a specific list of what the rules include:
– Products can no longer be sold to people under the age of 18, in person or online.
– Age verification via photo ID is required.
– E-cig sales in vending machines are now limited to adult-only facilities, such as bars.
– Free samples are no longer allowed.
Those regulations cover retailers, but the host of new implications for e-cig manufacturers includes:
– Manufacturers must provide product listings to the FDA.
– Ingredients, including harmful and potentially harmful constituents, must be reported.
– The FDA must review and authorize any new e-cig products.
– Health warnings are now required on product packages and advertisements.
– Selling of products described as “light,” “low” or “mild” is prohibited unless authorized by the FDA.
In general, the e-cig industry is in a bit of a holding pattern and time is required to see how this will all play out. Little is known about the health effects of e-cigs, and the effectiveness of the new FDA regulations won’t be known until they roll out later this year.
However, the FDA already views the products as potentially dangerous enough to regulate. At a minimum, the new rules should at least have the immediate effect of limiting sales to minors.
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About the Author:
Megan Nichols is the editor of Schooled by Science. She enjoys writing about the latest innovations in technology and science.
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