E-cigarettes may not be as harmful as the real thing, but they’re not the totally benign smoking smoking cessation alternative that the cigarette companies (which make them) suggest, either. They should be regulated, and subject to the same public indoor smoking rules as regular cigarettes.
E-cigarettes were designed to deliver the nicotine that smokers crave, through a vapor-release system, without burning tobacco and subjecting others to secondhand smoke.
But studies, including one in December at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, found that some nicotine (roughly one-tenth of the amount from real cigarettes) is still released into the air. And there are other chemicals released, including tiny amounts of nickel and chromium from the filament that heats the nicotine and turns it into vapor when the smoker takes a drag.
Compared to tobacco smoke, with its tar and carbon monoxide, e-cigarettes are apparently much less toxic. But no one knows exactly how much of what chemicals they contain. That’s because, since they are unregulated, the manufacturers don’t have to say.
Beyond the possible health issues with e-cigarettes, there’s the problem of TV advertising, which is banned for regular cigarettes.
The ads tend to present e-cigarettes as exciting and glamorous. They, along with the many flavorings that can be added to the liquid that goes into the cartridge, make e-cigarettes especially appealing to young people, who are smoking them in great numbers (although sales to those under 18 are banned in New York state).
Another issue is a weakening of the social norm that has developed since the first public indoor smoking ban was adopted by New York City in 1993. There’s now a general acceptance that people in bars, restaurants, offices and other public indoor spaces will have to go outside if they want to smoke. It’s a confusing message if e-cigarette users are allowed to smoke inside while others cannot.
The state Senate Health Committee will meet this coming Monday and consider whether the state’s public indoor smoking plan should be applied to e-cigarettes as well. It should be.
Meanwhile, the FDA is finally showing some interest in regulating e-cigarettes, which it would newly deem a “tobacco product.”
The agency has proposed rules that would, among other things, require e-cigarette manufacturers to register with it and disclose their products’ ingredients; get its approval before marketing new products; avoid making false health claims; and stop giving out free samples. More may be needed, but that’s a good start.