Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Fight Over Regulation of E-cigarettes

Remember e-cigarettes – those battery-powered cigarette substitutes that dispense nicotine vapor when the user puffs on them? (See this blog, Sept. 24, 2010). Distributors say that they are virtually free of the cancer-causing agents typically found in cigarettes. They’re legal in Europe, where studies show that they do seem to cause smokers to cut down on cigarette smoking, and that would be a good thing, supposedly. Proponents argue that they are a safer substitute for smoking to give current smokers the nicotine they crave. Opponents argue that they could encourage a whole new generation of nicotine addicts who never smoked.

Just over a year ago the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned e-cigarette manufacturers about making unsubstantiated claims, and signaled its intent to regulate e-cigarettes as “a drug or drug-delivery device”. That would have effectively blocked the importation of e-cigarettes, since they would have had to undergo extensive testing for safety and effectiveness. But that wasn’t the end of it, apparently. In January of this year a federal judge ruled that the FDA could not regulate e-cigarettes as a drug or drug-delivery device. His decision paves the way for the importation and sale of e-cigarettes, at least for now. However, the judge did leave the door open for e-cigarettes to be regulated by the FDA’s tobacco division.

Confused? I am. Simply put, the judge ruled that e-cigarettes should be lumped with cigarettes in terms of government regulation, not with drugs. Either way, the FDA seems determined to block e-cigarette sales in the U.S. Yet, a lot of people think e-cigarettes would do more good than harm.

You decide.

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