Author: Nicholas King
The debate about electronic cigarettes, their health risks and side effects, and how they should be dealt with under the law, flared up again this week with the release of a new study in France showing that smoking e-cigs can be equally as harmful as smoking a traditional cigarette. The study calls for stricter controls on e-cigarettes and what safety measures they contain. In specific, the study called out e-cig manufacturers for not providing child-proof safety caps on the nicotine liquid used in vaping, as the concentrated levels of nicotine it contains could be lethal to a small child who ingests it.
The study has been made public just days after the French government announced that they would expand their national ban on smoking in public places to include prohibiting the use of electronic cigarettes in the same places (bars, restaurants, and other “public areas”). In addition, the French Minister of Health, Marisol Touraine, has declared that the government will also prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to those under 18, and make them subject to the same advertising restrictions as traditional tobacco products.
The study is interesting because it is the first to reach such strong conclusions about the safety of electronic cigarettes. Earlier e-cigarette studies, including one done by the FDA in 2009, did not detect the same levels of dangerous chemicals (such as formaldehyde and acrolein) that the French study claims to have found. It is also worth noting that the French study surveyed only 10 brands of electronic cigarettes, and found the harmful toxins in only 3 of the models. The study also makes no mention of having detected any possibility of harm to those around the vaper.
Meanwhile, in America, the e-cigarette industry has called a series of meetings with the FDA to propose new regulations on the sale of e-cigs to minors, including the possibility of banning online sales altogether, and the possibility of raising the minimum age for purchase to 18 or even 19. They are also willing to discuss restrictions on the advertising of electronic cigarettes on the television, on the radio, and in print. The FDA says they expect to have the proposed new regulations ready to publish by October.
Sales of e-cigs to minors are a hot topic in the USA, where recent reports show a surge in the use of e-cigs to smoke drugs (especially marijuana). Large numbers of instructional videos about how to modify electronic cigarettes for drug use are now available on YouTube and elsewhere online. Many American e-cigarette retailers have adopted the policy of refusing to sell e-cigs to minors, even though there is not yet any law requiring them not to do so.
This is a smart move by the e-cig industry. By positioning themselves as truly caring about the public’s health (especially that of children), they can point to the lack of evidence that e-cigs harm those around the smoker in order to stave off having their products banned in public places as they are about to be in France.