In the five years it took the federal Food and Drug Administration to finally move toward regulating electronic cigarettes, there has been a 900 percent increase in the number of high school students “vaping” and inhaling substances – often laced with highly addictive nicotine – containing chemicals most probably never heard of.
The FDA got off to a slow start in regulating e-cigs, which use battery-produced heat to vaporize e-liquids into an inhalable vapor. Back in 2010, a federal appeals court tossed the agency’s plan to regulate e-cigs as drug-delivery devices instead of tobacco products.
Meanwhile, there hasn’t been enough research on e-cigarettes and the vapors they create for scientists to reach consensus on whether they’re less harmful, or more harmful, than regular cigarettes. Critics argue that the vast number of vapor formulas and flavors being marketed – including cotton candy and gummy bear – are part of a plot to addict a new generation of vapers to replace conventional tobacco smokers.
That skepticism likely has its roots in Big Tobacco’s efforts decades ago to boost cigarettes’ nicotine content while vehemently denying that smoking caused cancer.
Predictably, trade organizations like the American Vaping Association and Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association are taking a lesson from Big Tobacco and vowing to sue the government over the new regulations – which are still at least three years away.
While scientific studies are playing catch-up, it’s prudent that the FDA move forward with plans to regulate the devices and the e-liquids that go into them. Although the new rules issued by the FDA extend long-standing restrictions on traditional cigarettes and now include e-cigarettes, hookah tobacco, pipe tobacco and nicotine gels, they inexplicably allow the kiddie-friendly flavoring of e-liquids to continue – even while phasing out flavored cigars.
Although most states, including New Mexico, already prohibit selling e-cigs and e-liquids to minors, the new federal rules impose stiffer penalties and better enforcement.
Given the exploding popularity of vaping among minors, and the lack of scientific study surrounding the practice, it would be unconscionable for the FDA to stand idly by.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.