Op-Ed

E-cigs must be tested, regulated for safety

At issue | April 26 Associated Press story, "E-cigs to be regulated as tobacco; FDA decision seen as victory for makers of smokeless devices"

Electronic, or e-cigarettes, are aggressively marketed in Kentucky. Their manufacturers' trade group, E-Cig Association, and the closely affiliated Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association heavily promote e-cigs to addicted smokers who are desperate to quit, as well as those who need nicotine when they cannot light up.

Not surprisingly, they actively oppose smoke-free policies. Sound like a familiar anti-health tactic? Recent studies report serious labeling and quality-control issues as well as design flaws, none of which are reflected in the industry's television ads, powerful Internet pitches and testimonials using Facebook and other social media.

The industry says e-cigs are a replacement for smoking when smokers cannot light up, yet they claim they help smokers quit. What is the goal? Experimenting on the consumer first, and testing in the lab later? The burden is on manufacturers and distributors to show their products won't harm people.

E-cigs are small reusable tubes with rechargeable batteries. They contain concentrated and varying amounts of liquid nicotine, flavorings, propylene glycol (used to simulate smoke) and other chemicals. E-cigs preserve the visual, sensory and behavioral aspects of smoking, which can prolong addiction. Further, they expand the available options for nicotine as starter products for non-users, and flavorings (recently banned from cigarettes) can increase the attraction to youth.

The World Health Organization has serious concerns about the safety and effect of e-cigs on the health of their users and the public. The Food and Drug Administration has done preliminary testing on two brands, but has not evaluated any for safety and effectiveness.

While e-cigs will eventually be regulated as a "tobacco product," the FDA could still decide to regulate them as drug-delivery devices if marketed for therapeutic purposes.

Continuing to market e-cigs without rigorous research and strict regulation is an uncontrolled experiment conducted by those whose primary interest is to profit from addiction, which causes early, painful death.

The industry argues that its products do not emit secondhand smoke and should not be included in smoke-free laws. They do emit secondhand vapor that includes nicotine and may include other potentially harmful chemicals.

To establish whether these products help people quit, we need clinical trials. If a safe, effective product is found, regulation is also needed to ensure it is manufactured to these standards.

Given the more than 1 billion cigarette smokers worldwide, e-cigs have great potential for profit, currently at $100 million a year. But at whose expense? Sadly, the e-cig industry is selling a product that has not been shown to help people quit, likely prolongs nicotine addiction and perpetuates empty claims of safety.

By refuting research on potential dangers and attacking public-health professionals, these groups derail effective interventions to reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke, such as FDA-approved cessation treatments and smoke-free laws.

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