The FDA recently released its proposed regulations for the electronic cigarette industry. The proposed regulations will make it illegal to sell the devices to anyone younger than the age of 18, health warnings will be required, sales in vending machines will be prohibited, and manufacturers would be required to register all their products and ingredients with the FDA. E-cigarette companies would also no longer be able to give out free samples. The proposed rules will not ban advertising unless health-related claims are included on the label. The FDA also will not ban the use of flavors such as chocolate or bubble gum, which some think attract children to want to try an e-cigarette. The FDA is allowing 75 days for the public and the electronic cigarette industry to comment on the proposed regulations before the agency issues their final rule.
Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are small battery-powered cartridges that are filled with a nicotine liquid that creates an inhalable mist when heated. Developed in China, e-cigarettes first came to the market in the United States in 2007 and have been growing in popularity since. They have been marketed as an effective smoking cessation tool and a safe alternative to smoking tobacco cigarettes. However, it is unclear how effective the devices are at helping people quit smoking, and people are beginning to question their safety and the mist it dispenses.
Currently, the FDA only regulates e-cigarettes used for therapeutic purposes but have now proposed new regulations for the device. Amid the lack of regulation, legislators are questioning the marketing tactics employed by e-cigarette companies, comparing them to those once used by the tobacco industry, and highlighting marketing strategies aimed at teenagers and young adults.
Without regulations, e-cigarettes companies have been unrestricted and are free to market their devices to individuals younger than the age of 18, and they appear to be taking advantage. In 2013, close to $60 million was spent by e-cigarettes companies to market their products. The campaigns they use to target minors would be considered illegal if they were being used for tobacco cigarettes. E-cigarette companies are using candy and fruit flavors to appeal to a younger demographic, and they use social media advertisements and offer free samples at rock concerts and music festivals. Several legislators are currently pressing the FDA for federal regulations that will make this kind of advertising illegal for e-cigarette companies.
E-cigarettes have not been studied to a great extent, and it is this lack of research that has many public health advocates concerned about promoting them an alternative to tobacco cigarettes. There is a lot that is still unknown about the devices. It is unclear what potential risks e-cigarettes pose when used as intended or how the mist affects those near the user. It is also unknown how much nicotine or other potentially harmful chemicals are being inhaled during use. And for smoking cessation advocates, most importantly, it is unclear whether they actually work as smoking cessation tools.
However, preliminary, recent studies are suggesting that e-cigarettes are not as safe as originally thought. Some suggest that the vapor dispensed from the device increases airway restriction and damages human cells in a way similar to the smoke from tobacco cigarettes. The CDC also raised concerns about the safety of the liquid used in the devices after an increase in the number of calls to poison centers regarding the liquid.
With the growing popularity of e-cigarettes, new consideration needs to be given to anti-smoking campaigns that primarily focus on tobacco cigarettes. The need to quit smoking or to not start is being challenged by e-cigarettes since they are marketed as a safe alternative to tobacco cigarettes. Given the new trend of smoking e-cigarettes, how might you amend your current anti-smoking campaigns to include how to avoid e-cigarettes?