In early April of 2009 the House of Representatives approved a bill, (which the Senate will consider later in the year), that authorizes the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products including electric cigarettes. The FDA, under pressure from anti-smoking groups, began to hold some shipments of electronic cigarette devices coming into the US. This article takes a closer look at the reasons behind the move and how it may affect the many of consumers and lawmakers who support this promising new product.
If You Aren’t Familiar With E-Cigarettes – Here’s a Brief Description
Electric cigarettes (more commonly called electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes) are battery-operated devices that look like tobacco cigarettes. Inside the “filter”, there’s an atomizer that contains various concentrations of liquid nicotine. The consumer may select the amount of nicotine; although, many companies offer models without any nicotine. Ingredients also include a small amount of propylene glycol, a substance considered safe by the FDA. The atomizer (or heating element) vaporizes the liquid, which the user inhales as if it were smoke. Hence, the new term “vaping” has made it to the Urban Dictionary. Since you don’t light up an electronic cigarette, there is no burning involved, no smell, no ash and they don’t contain the same hazardous cocktail of cancer-causing chemicals.
More Power To The FDA
Now that the FDA is regulating tobacco, one might assume that they would begin dictating sensible measures to restrict harmful chemicals in existing tobacco cigarettes or at the least, add an FDA warning to cigarette packaging. But no, – In a seemingly incongruous move, the agency issued a Safety Alert for electronic cigarettes, (a non-tobacco product), directed at Pediatric health care professionals and consumers. The warning stated that some carcinogens were found in the ingredients and that nicotine (a non-carcinogen) was also present.
In a preliminary test, 18 cartridges were tested. Only one (1) brand of e-cigarette contained a non-listed ingredient diethylene glycol, a humectant, which is already present in the tobacco of modern cigarettes to keep the tobacco moist!
The FDA, in its attempt to scare the pubic, defined diethylene glycol as “an ingredient used in antifreeze.”
Diethylene glycol is indeed toxic. But here’s the fine print: Diethylene glycol contains one-tenth the toxicity of household aspirin and one-fortieth the toxicity of nicotine. Here’s another fact: Diethylene glycol is an ingredient found in mouthwash, toothpaste, dog food, wine and lots of other consumer products – and if you really wanted to dissect this issue,you could point out that Diethylene glycol is not actually used in antifreeze, it’s used in coolants, – but that doesn’t sound as scary.
It’s shameful that this discovery led to the banning shippments of 2 of the largest electronic cigarette companies (Smoking Everywhere and NJoy) and (egged-oned by anti-smoking groups such as The American Cancer Society) initiated a threat to remove all electronic cigarettes from the market.
Apples To Apples
In comparing the carcinogens in electronic cigarettes with regular cigarettes, recent scientific studies have shown that conventional cigarettes contain 57 identified carcinogens, while e-cigarettes have been found not to contain any carcinogens at higher than trace levels. They were found to be at levels well below other smoking cessation products such as nicotine gum, patches and inhalers; in fact, you would have to smoke as many as 1,400 electronic cigarettes to be exposed to the same amount of carcinogens as found in only one tobacco cigarette.
It’s interesting to note that Nicotine, is not considered a carcinogen by any agency. It’s found in many of the foods we eat including tomatoes, eggplant and potatoes. Maybe that’s why we can’t get enough pizza, french fries or eggplant parmeggian!
The FDA Stamp of Dis-Approval
Recently, the question came up as to whether the FDA should place their “stamp” (similar to the Surgeon General’s warning) on tobacco products. What do you think they decided? The April 2009 bill actually forbids manufacturers from mentioning FDA regulation saying, “consumers are likely to be confused and misled” if they know about it. In other words, people might assume that the FDA is placing a stamp of approval on tobacco products. What we have here sounds like a rather confusing and misleading bill, no?
Quality Control vs. Political Control
I suspect the FDA’s recent ruling is really about protecting Big Pharma and good old-fashioned taxation. I suspect there will be an awful lot of lost tax revenue when smokers quit smoking highly taxed tobacco products and switch to electric cigarettes. Similarly, what would happen if far fewer people contract cancer each year?
Quoting tobacco control expert Dr. Michael Siegel,
Associate chairman and a professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health –
“So far, every anti-smoking group which has called for the removal of e-cigarettes from the market has been found to be financially tied to Big Pharma. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, and Action on Smoking and Health have all received funding of some sort from the pharmaceutical industry. None of these groups, however, disclosed their financial conflicts of interest when they called for a ban on electronic cigarettes.”
Although e-cigarettes are never marketed as a smoking cessation product, a health product, or a cure for tobacco addition, they do offer a far safer alternative for tobacco cigarette smokers.
Of course e-cigarette manufacturers should institute tighter quality control procedures, making sure the propylene glycol is devoid of the so-called dreaded diethylene glycol – and there should be restrictions on the sale of these devices to minors.
Reputable e-cigarette companies do have disclaimers on their websites, such as this one from Greensmoke:
“The Green Smoke electric cigarette contains nicotine, which is highly addictive. It is not a medical device and makes no claims to help a person quit smoking. The Green Smoke electric cigarette is allowed to be used only by adults (minimum age 18 or 21 depending on individual’s state laws). Like cigarettes, it is not FDA approved.”
So, Are E-Cigarettes Safe?
The right question to be asked is not, “Are electronic cigarettes safe?” The right question is: “Are electronic cigarettes far safer than conventional cigarettes?” The FDA and anti-smoking groups are comparing electronic cigarettes to a breath of mountain air. What they need to compare electronic cigarettes to is a Camel cigarette.
Put That In Your Pipe and Vape It!
Here is a product that is clearly tobacco-free and a potentially life-saving alternative for smokers.How bizarre is it to ban what is obviously a safer cigarette while continuing to permit the sale of tobacco cigarettes?
To paraphrase another savvy reporter, Jacob Sullum – Forbidding smokers to use e-cigarettes until the FDA has approved them, is like telling a drowning man not to climb aboard a lifeboat because it might spring a leak.
One very timely hubpage by sandra rinck comments on the despicable, misinformed trashing of e-cigs by the LA Times.
If You Care About Saving a Few Million Lives, Take Action!
The FDA’s conspiring with special interest groups is the deadliest cocktail of all. Fight back by calling your representatives, news channels and special interest groups and tell them that e-cigarettes are a far safer alternative to tobacco cigarettes. To ban them while approving deadly products such as Camels, Marlboros, Winstons, Kools, Newports and the like, is an irresponsible act of madness and stupidity.
I would like to think that we have an intelligent Food & Drug Administration dedicated to protecting consumers from unscrupulous manufacturers; those who distribute dangerous products that compromise our health. I would like to think that this same agency operates in the public interest without pressure from outside groups. I would hope that the FDA quickly resolves this issue and – as other countries around the world have done, finally acknowledges the safely and benefits of electronic cigarettes.
Let’s start testing and publicizing the levels of carcinogens in tobacco products. Let’s tell the FDA to go ahead and slap that cancer warning label on every tobacco cigarette box. (we promise not to get “confused”). And while your at it, go ahead and slap a warning label on e-cigarette boxes too, saying “this product may be addictive and harmful to your health; but no more so than a baked potato.”
Thanks for stopping by! LIVE GREEN AND LIVE LONG