Smoke Signals: The Misinformation Behind FDA’s Proposed Regulation Of E-Cigarettes
Above The Law
new rules targeting electronic cigarettes. By its authority under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act,
The new regulations would prevent e-cigarette manufacturers from telling consumers that their products are a safer alternative than tobacco cigarettes. The deeming regulations would prohibit claiming that vaporized nicotine "presents a lower risk of tobacco-related disease or is less harmful than one or more commercially marketed tobacco products." In fact, the new rules would prevent them from even advertising to the public that their "product or its smoke does not contain or is free of a substance," even though e-cigs do not produce smoke and do not contain tobacco in any common-sense meaning of the word.
Banning this sort of claims is absurd: e-cigs lack the more than 4,000 chemicals, many of them carcinogenic, of combustible tobacco cigarettes. Electronic nicotine vaporizers need not be particularly healthy in order to be less unhealthy than traditional cigarettes.
This regulatory push is poisoned by a bevy of bad arguments. Most of the rhetoric consists of pure emotion on the part of anti-tobacco activists. Certain anti-tobacco and anti-smoking factions grow hysterical at the mere specter of smoking. Unfortunately, a more powerful lobby is also trying to squelch e-cigs . . . .
First, consider the common-sense reaction to the idea of deeming e-cigarettes a tobacco product even though they don't contain obvious tobacco. If anything, e-cigs are essentially nicotine vaporizers. They consist of a small battery that warms a chamber filled with water, liquid nicotine, a vapor-producing agent, and flavoring.
Propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin produces the vapor. PG is "generally recognized as safe" by the
So, how does a product like this count as a "tobacco product" according to
In a 2010 decision,
Nicotine is an alkaloid extracted from plants in the nightshade family, including the tobacco plant. Since the nicotine compound is ultimately derived from tobacco, and e-cigs use liquid nicotine,
Nicotine used in smoking cessation products like patches, gums and lozenges is also extracted from tobacco plants. Since even over-the-counter versions of those products are marketed for the therapeutic purpose of kicking smoking, not mere recreation,
Aside from marketing claims, how different are e-cigs from other
Nicotine inhalers like Nicotrol are
For an entertaining and informative refresher on why that process sucks, watch this recent Intelligence Squared debate, "The
Instead of acknowledging the potential of e-cigs to reduce exposure to the harms of tobacco, e-cig opponents argue that the products may actually lead to smoking. Yet, most people use e-cigs to replace tobacco cigarettes. They either wean themselves off of tobacco with vaporizers, or they substitute vaporizers for tobacco cigarettes when smoking would impermissible or inconvenient. Does drinking Diet Coke lead to consumption of regular Coke?
So who is behind the drive to bury e-cigs?
Some activists think we ought to have zero tolerance for any behavior that resembles or reminds us of smoking. Purveyors of this militant stance are unrealistic, unpragmatic, and intolerant. This attitude is typical of abstinence-only zealots, whether the evil they perceive is smoking, premarital sex, or anything else. The zealots draft blue laws. They reduce sex ed to a joke. They call in regulators. They traffic in histrionics and paternalism.
More notably,the pharmaceutical industry strongly opposes e-cigs. Why? Drug companies like
Is smoking tobacco cigarettes an unhealthy habit? Yes. Is it possible that vaporizing liquid nicotine is an unhealthy habit? Maybe. So is a cheeseburger-laden lunch, a margarita-sloshed happy hour, and a tendency to be a pompous ass who tells other grown-ups which vices they may prioritize over some aspect of physical well-being. Claiming that vaporizing nicotine is less safe than burning tobacco is an absurdity born of moralizing over-regulation and the economic motivations of a competing industry.