WHAT OTHERS SAY: E-cigs aren't cigarettes and need their own regulations

Monday, May 19, 2014 | 12:27 p.m. CDT

In late April, the Food and Drug Administration proposed new regulations for electronic cigarettes.

Proposed FDA regulations would include health-warning labels on packaging, a nationwide ban on sales to minors and an FDA review and approval process for current and future e-cigarette manufacturers.

E-cigarettes, or "e-cigs," aren't tobacco products, and shouldn't be classified as such.

Unnecessary restrictions on e-cigs — which are safer than tobacco products and often help smokers quit traditional cigarettes altogether — will squash innovation and likely incentivize smokers to maintain their deadly habits.

The FDA can't point to any conclusive evidence e-cigs are harmful to one's health, and says it needs to invest more into studies before it can determine health risks. It's worth noting that one of the only studies so far on the issue, published in The Lancet, found e-cigs to be as or slightly more effective than other smoking cessation products.

Although the FDA plans to conduct more studies, it will try to regulate the devices as tobacco products in the meantime. But that's putting the cart before the horse. As the agency learns more about the effects of e-cigs, it can offer regulations accordingly.

E-cigs are clearly a safer alternative than traditional cigarettes, which fill the lungs with damaging smoke byproducts.

The main component in e-cigs are cartridges filled with synthetic or tobacco-derived nicotine. It is mixed with other solvents and flavors. When a user breathes in, a small battery heats the liquids, which then become vapor.

If the nicotine is sourced from a tobacco plant, it is then purified and processed to pharmaceutical grade.

That means e-cigs contain the same type of nicotine as "nicotine replacement pharmaceutical products," such as Nicorette or Nicoderm gums, patches, nasal inhalants and more. Since e-cigs are a similar product, they should be regulated as such.

The federal government promotes these as effective methods to stop smoking, and regulates them more like medicine, not cigarettes. even offers free advertising by outlining their affordability and effectiveness, while specifically warning consumers to stay away from e-cigs.

Yet most e-cigs contain less nicotine, or comparable amounts, per usage than government-sponsored smoking cessation products.

Some advocacy groups, such as the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, have been quite vocal in the fight against e-cigs. Certainly any product containing nicotine is unsuitable for children, and rules should be put in place to restrict use by minors.

But these decisions must also be transparent. On the campaign's board sits the global vice president of government affairs and policy at pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson, which owns the company that manufactures Nicorette products.

For the sake of those trying to lead healthier lifestyles, leaders should think twice before unduly regulating products that could save lives.

Copyright Detroit News. Distributed by the Associated Press.

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