Opinion is divided probably more over e-cigarettes than about any consumer topic. While the products are the subject of significant concern from American Cancer Society, e-cigarettes are supported by numerous other public advocacy groups.
On May 15, 2014, witnesses testified at a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on Food and Drug Administration’s proposal to assert authority over e-cigarettes. The witnesses included Dr. Tim McAfee, who is the director of Office on Smoking and Health within National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, and Mitchell Zeller, who is the director of FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. Both expressed trepidation that public safety is undermined by e-cigarettes.
Eleven days later, 53 specialists in nicotine science and public-health policy sent an open letter to World Health Organization to express their fear that WHO’s possible classification of e-cigarettes as tobacco products, which the scientists argue are much safer than cigarettes, would inhibit a move by current smokers to a less harmful alternative.
In our report “Blowing Smoke: The Truth About E-Cigarettes,” we present both sides’ arguments. Our conclusions: Evidence is lacking to make a call one way or another on adult use, and FDA and the scientific community must study the long-term effects of e-cigarette usage.
However, one thing proved obvious: the need to prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. Only 34 states outlaw the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone who is under the age of 18. Worse, children in any state can purchase the products online. I cringe at the thought of my 14-year-old son walking into a store and being sold an e-cigarette as if it were a pack of gum.
At the May 15 Senate hearing, McAfee cited a finding of the U.S. surgeon general’s 2014 report on the health consequences of smoking: It’s likely that nicotine exposure during adolescence adversely affects cognitive function and development.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, expressed disdain over e-cigarette flavors that he deemed to be attractive to minors. Among those: cotton candy, gummi bear and rocket pop. He said to McAfee and Zeller, “What you do on [e-cigarettes] with adults . . . I’m a little less clear on that, but for kids, as far as I’m concerned, it’s pretty clear what’s happening here and how [e-cigarette makers are] marketing it.”
(In September 2009, FDA banned flavored cigarettes, which it says “highlights the importance of reducing the number of children who start to smoke and who become addicted to dangerous tobacco products.”)
Zeller’s response to Harkin: “We share the concerns about any marketing of any of the currently unregulated products, like e-cigarettes, that would have an appeal.
“Technically, to bar flavors requires the issuance of something they call a product standard under a different section of the statute.”
E-cigarette proponents don’t want a flavor ban; that could dissuade many cigarette smokers from opting to go tobacco-free by switching to e-cigarettes. However, until minors nationwide are prohibited from purchasing e-cigarettes, e-cigarette flavoring remains a menace to our children.
A concern among those who are opposed to e-cigarettes is that the products serve as a gateway for teenagers to cigarette use. If the federal government would get its act together and prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, this and other concerns regarding our children’s well-being would be addressed.