ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — With the U.S. Food and Drug Administration expected to release its first proposed regulations on electronic cigarettes this month, debate is growing over the potential benefits and hazards.
Skeptics include a range of mainstream organizations, such as the American Lung Association, the American Cancer Association and the American Heart Association.
They say too little is known about the short- and long-term effects of inhaling nicotine and other ingredients in e-cigarettes. They also question the impacts of second-hand smoke on bystanders and whether e-cigs actually help smokers quit tobacco. And they’re alarmed about evidence that e-cigarette use is rapidly increasing among teenagers.
In September, 40 state attorneys general, including New Mexico, sent a joint letter to the FDA urging rapid action on regulations after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that e-cigarette use had doubled from 3 percent to 7 percent among sixth-to 12th-grade students between 2011 and 2012.
“The bottom line is, e-cigarettes are a new delivery system for nicotine, which is an addictive substance,” New Mexico Attorney General Gary King told the Journal. “We’re concerned that these products may have many of the same detrimental effects on health as regular cigarettes, and yet we’re allowing them to be marketed to youth in a way that regular cigarettes are not allowed.”
Critics point to a 2009 test that the FDA did on a small number of e-cigarette samples that showed “detectable levels” of known carcinogens and toxic chemicals.
But industry advocates say that test has been debunked and some three-dozen independent studies have shown no harmful effects on people.
“The FDA studied some e-cigarette cartridges and said in a press release that there were toxins and so forth, but when they sent us the numbers, it showed that those were absolute trace amounts, practically the same as in city water,” said Thomas Kiklas, co-founder of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association in Atlanta. “All together, at least 35 studies have been done, and not one has ever shown any constituent at any level harmful to humans.”
A new study published in August by the Drexel University School of Public Health said that “current data do not indicate that exposures to vapors from contaminants in electronic cigarettes warrant a concern.”
The FDA is expected to address advertising, ingredients and sales to minors in its proposed regulations under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.