E-Cigarettes in Legal Limbo
Smokers know that they can’t light up in most public places. Kids know that they cannot purchase cigarettes if they are under 18. Cigarette manufacturers understand that there are restrictions on how they advertise. There are many rules governing the use of traditional tobacco products.
But what happens when a smoker lights up an e-cigarette, a kid buys an e-cigarette or a manufacturer advertises an e-cigarette? Currently, most of the rules do not apply.
What Is an E-Cigarette?
An e-cigarette is a battery-powered device that turns a nicotine-laced liquid into a vapor. E-cigarettes are designed to look like traditional tobacco cigarettes and to mimic the visual, sensory and behavioral aspects of smoking.
E-cigarettes were introduced as a tobacco alternative about 10 years ago. Some people use e-cigarettes as a way to eventually quit smoking. Others use them to cut down on their smoking. And still others use them to circumvent existing smoking restrictions in public places.
Healthier than Traditional Cigarettes
Although they contain addictive nicotine, e-cigarettes do not produce smoke including the carcinogens and toxic chemicals found in tobacco smoke. Therefore, they are less harmful to smokers than traditional cigarettes. In addition, they do not generate the kind of second-hand smoke that is behind many anti-smoking regulations.
However, because the product is so new, there is little research on the effects of long-term use. Most e-cigarettes contain propylene glycol, which is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and used in asthma inhalers, but has not been studied in this particular use. It is also used in antifreeze.
A study published in the medical journal The Lancet in September 2013 concluded that e-cigarettes were as effective as nicotine patches in helping smokers to quit.
A Gateway to Traditional Cigarettes?
Many critics are concerned that e-cigarettes will serve as a gateway to traditional tobacco cigarettes, especially among susceptible young people.
The liquid in e-cigarettes is flavored, sometimes to taste like a traditional Marlboro or some other cigarette brand, but more often to taste like fruit or candy. The use of flavors in traditional cigarettes was banned in the United States in 2009
In 2012, one in ten high schools students said they had tried an e-cigarette.
Government Regulation in Flux
More than two dozen states since 2010 have banned the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. A few states have outlawed their use in enclosed public spaces. California has attempted to bring e-cigarettes under smoke-free laws covering public buildings, workplaces and restaurants. A number of cities have extended smoking bans to e-cigarettes, and they are not allowed on airplanes or Amtrak trains.
At the federal level, the U.S. Food and Drug administration initially tried to block the sale of e-cigarettes, but manufacturers successfully challenged the agency’s position. In 2010, a federal appeals court held that the FDA could regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products. Since then, the FDA has been working to draft new regulations to exert its authority over non-traditional tobacco products.
Most likely, these will ban flavorings that make e-cigarettes appeal to young people and prohibit sales and marketing to buyers under 18. They could ensure that advertising is not deceptive and the factories follow good manufacturing practices.