Wednesday, August 5, 2009
E-Cigarettes: Another Look
FDA remains conflicted over safety concerns.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a controversial Safety Alert over electronic cigarettes, known as “e-cigarettes,” then held a press conference to explain itself. The agency’s muddled response to the issue has prompted increased advertising and online sales for Asian e-cigarette manufacturers, as well as a countering burst of criticism about the newest nicotine delivery system under the sun.
The FDA conducted a small-scale lab analysis of two different brands of e-cigarettes, and found “carcinogens and toxic chemicals such as diethylene glycol, an ingredient used in antifreeze.” The FDA’s Division of Pharmaceutical Analysis also found evidence of small amounts of cancer-causing nitrosamines. “These products do not contain any health warnings comparable to FDA-approved nicotine replacement products or conventional cigarettes,” the agency bulletin said. Therefore, the agency “has no way of knowing, except for the limited testing it has performed, the levels of nicotine or the amounts or kinds of other chemicals that the various brands of these products deliver to the user.”
The agency did not seek to ban e-cigarettes, as Canada did in March. However, in a written statement to CNN in March, the FDA admitted it had been detaining or refusing importations of electronic cigarettes for more than a year.
Debate has raged recently over the safety of e-cigarettes, which are battery-operated cigarette substitutes that technically dodge no-smoking bans, since no actual smoke is emitted. When a smoker inhales on the e-cigarette, the battery warms liquid nicotine stored in a plastic filter, producing a smokeless but inhalable form of synthetic nicotine. Upon exhalation, there is a small puff of vapor that quickly evaporates (See my earlier post, "E-Cigarettes and Health").
Michael Levy, director of compliance for the FDA’s division of drug evaluation and research, said he believes the products are illegal. However, “There is pending litigation on the issue of FDA’s jurisdiction over e-cigarettes,” he said.
Proponents of the e-cigarette claim that the devices are self-evidently safer than smoking cigarettes, and can help people stop using tobacco products. Critics respond that the safety of synthetic nicotine drug-delivery devices has not been established. Moreover, the range of fruit and candy flavors offered by e-cigarette manufacturers suggests to Jonathan Inickoff of the American Academy of Pediatrics Tobacco Consortium that the devices seem “tailor-made to appeal to kids,” while addicting them to nicotine and turning them into future cigarette smokers.
With half a million Americans dying prematurely each year from smoking, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), some doctors and tobacco researchers have pointed out that nitrosamines are also found in everything from nicotine patches to bacon. According to one researcher, “FDA should be encouraging, not maligning the manufacture and sale of electronic cigarettes, and working with manufacturers to assure the highest possible quality control.”
For a robust discussion of the e-cigarette question, see www.e-cigarette-forum.com
Photo Credit: www.politech.wordpress.com
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