As health and quality concerns trouble the e-cigarette industry, experts and the public await the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s action to regulate the devices.
E-cigarettes, battery-powered devices that heat nicotine liquid into an inhalable vapor, have been touted as a means to wean smokers from traditional cigarettes. They do not produce smoke, and there is no carcinogenic tar produced in burning tobacco in traditional cigarettes. But smokers are not adopting the devices in the numbers expected, The New York Times reports, and some experts argue that e-cigarette manufacturers see them not as a cessation device but as a way to introduce nonsmokers, in particular young people, to smoking.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports a sharp increase in nicotine poisoning incidents. The nicotine liquid can be toxic, even fatal, to children in very small doses. The FDA has received reports of breathing difficulties, chest pain and other cardiovascular problems, and allergic reactions in e-cigarette users.
Last year the FDA issued proposed regulations for e-cigarettes and there is pressure on the agency to make the regulations final. But an op-ed piece in the Times argues that the FDA should not create too complex a regulatory burden that would delay needed regulation. The Times suggests the agency focus on basic steps, including basic good-manufacturing practices for the devices and limits on the amount of chemicals, like formaldehyde, that can be present in the vapors. Some contaminants should be banned outright from e-liquids and manufacturers should be required to ensure that all batches of chemicals are traceable and all sources of hardware are known. The guidelines should also require makers to verify that e-cigarette batteries can be charged safely and that they will operate safely in the course of normal use, according to the Times. And there should be childproof packaging for e-liquids and a warning that nicotine is addictive and intended for adult smokers only.