Thursday, May 8, 2014

Why the CDC Director Hates E-Cigarettes

The pros and cons of getting your vape on.

Last month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began a new era—regulating e-cigarettes. With a non-controversial first step, the FDA banned the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, required health warnings, prohibited health claims, and outlined a plan to register and license all electronic nicotine products at some future date. The FDA’s proposed rules would also give the agency the power to regulate the currently unregulated mixture of chemicals and flavorings that are heated during e-cigarette use.  Whatever regulations the FDA promulgates for electronic cigarettes will also apply to nicotine gels, water pipe tobacco, and hookahs.

Perhaps what rankles e-cigarette activists the most is the FDA’s insistence that companies will have to provide scientific evidence before making any implied claims about risk reduction for their product, compared with cigarettes. The FDA did not restrict advertising or prohibit flavorings (bubble gum, apple-blueberry, gummi bear, and cappuccino are popular).

Within a few days after the FDA’s announcement, Chicago, New York City, and other major cities placed e-cigarettes under the same municipal smoking bans as cigarettes. 

The battle over e-cigarettes is both a public health issue and a private enterprise war for market share. Corporate giants Altria and Lorillard, which dominate the corporate tobacco landscape in the U.S., are fighting for a piece of what has become nearly a $2 billion market in a few short years. (Altria recently boosted  its growth forecast to 6-9% growth for 2014). Lorillard has been making heavy acquisitions of its own, and commands more than half the present market with its Blu brand. Altria has made its own vapor acquisitions, and is launching its own brand, MarkTen.

So far, the moves being contemplated by the FDA do not have these companies shaking in their boots. They anticipated the ban on sales to minors, a system of formal FDA approval, a disclosure of ingredients, and health warnings about the addictive nature of nicotine. And Congress gave the FDA legal authority to draft a set of rules for e-cigarettes five years ago, so the FDA’s reluctance to step in on liquid nicotine delivery systems has been evident.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Tom Frieden, director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), listed the reasons for his opposition to electronic cigarettes:

—E-cigarettes are an additional means of hooking another generation of kids on nicotine, making them more likely to become adult smokers.

—Smokers who might have quit smoking will maintain their nicotine addiction, remaining highly vulnerable to tobacco craving.

—Ex-smokers might make themselves more vulnerable to relapse if they take up vaping.

—Smokers might forego medications that could help them quit, in favor of the unproven promise of tobacco abstention via e-cigarette.

—E-cigarettes might have the cultural effect of “re-glamorizing” smoking.

—E-cigarette users might be exposing children and pregnant women to nicotine via secondhand smoke mechanisms.

—E-cigarette users can refill cartridges with liquid cannabis products and other drugs.

Dr. Michael Siegel, a tobacco expert at the Boston University School of Public Health, worries that smaller players will be squeezed out due to costs associated with the FDA approval process, driving sales toward the traditional cigarette industry leaders. Go-go analysts have predicted market penetration of as much as 50% for e-cigarettes, but Siegel is more pessimistic, and believes the e-cigarette share could top out at 10% if FDA regulations set back efforts by vaping proponents to position their product as a safer and healthier alternative to tobacco cigarettes. And that, says Siegel, would be a shame. He told the Boston Globe: “There simply is no product on the market that’s more dangerous than tobacco cigarettes, and nobody in their right mind would argue that cigarette smoking is less hazardous or even equally hazardous to vaping.”

Frieden at the CDC is sympathetic to the fact that many smokers have indeed quit smoking tobacco with the aid of e-cigarettes. “Stick to stick, they’re almost certainly less toxic than cigarettes.” But like many tobacco experts, he sees the possibility of a new generation of nicotine addicts. Almost two million high school kids have tried e-cigarettes, Frieden told the LA Times, “and a lot of them are using them regularly…. That’s like watching someone harm hundreds of thousands of children.”  The CDC reported that the percentage of high school students who have used an e-cigarette jumped from 4.7% in 2011 to 10% in 2012. Calls to poison control centers involving children and e-cigarettes have increased sharply as well.

Frieden views the Food and Drug Administration as David under siege by Goliath. The FDA, he said, “tried to regulate e-cigarettes earlier, and they lost to the tobacco industry…. So the FDA has to balance moving quickly with moving in a way that’s going to be able to survive the tobacco industry’s highly paid legal challenge.” If E-cigarette makers really want to market to people trying to quit smoking, Frieden told the LA Times, “then do the clinical trials and apply to the FDA. But they don’t want to do that.” (See my post on Big Tobacco’s move into the e-cigarette market).

“It’s really the wild, wild West out there,” a beleaguered FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg told the press.   “They’re coming in different sizes, shapes and flavors in terms of the nicotine in them.”

On May 4, the New York Times published a report by Matt Richtel, based on an upcoming paper in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research. Nicotine researchers discovered that high-end electronic cigarette systems with refillable tanks produce formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, as a component of the exhaled nicotine vapor. Moreover, unlike disposable e-cigarettes, tank systems require users to refill them with liquid nicotine, itself a potent toxin. “Nicotine is a pesticide, fundamentally,” Michael Eriksen, dean of the School of Public Health at Georgia Statue University, told CNN. “We take so many precautions about pesticides for our lawns and how to wear gloves. But what precautions do consumers take when they put the nicotine vials in?”

This was not good news for harm reductionists, who view the advantages of e-cigarettes as self-evident. The New York Times report says that the toxin is formed “when liquid nicotine and other e-cigarette ingredients are subjected to high temperatures,” according to the research. “A second study that is being prepared for submission to the same journal points to similar findings.” In addition, a new study by researchers RTI International documents the release of tiny metal particles, including tin, chromium and nickel, which may worsen asthma and bronchitis.

Eric Moskowitz at the Boston Globe  reported that “thousands of gas stations and convenience stores statewide carry e-cigarettes, usually stocking disposable or cartridge-based versions that resemble traditional cigarettes.”

In U.S. News, Gregory Conley, president of the trade group American Vaping Association, predicted “a huge influx of anti-e-cigarette legislation in the last half of 2014 and especially in 2015 when the legislative sessions get going again.” 

According to Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, “it may be years before  regulations are imposed. The lobbying at FDA and Congress will be intense.”

Effectively regulated, e-cigarettes have the potential to drastically reduce deaths from tobacco-related diseases among cigarette smokers. In an editorial for the journal Addiction, Sara Hitchman, Ann McNeill, and Leonie Brose of King’s College, London, wrote: “E-cigarettes may offer a way out of the smoking epidemic or a way of perpetuating it; robustly designed, implemented and accurately reported scientific evidence will be the best tool we have to help us predict and shape which of these realities transpires.”

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Unknown said...

IF Nicotine is a pesticide then putting itOn the skin like in nicotine toothpick, nicotine patches and gum are totally safe right?
Let's talk about alcohols various candy and cake flavors. More have died by alcohol then ever by ecigs. And nicotine is made by pharmacies, so I ask why?

Anonymous said...

Uggh what? This piece is not balanced in the slightest. Minimal mention of any 'pros'. You may want to start by looking at the tar content each method produces.

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