Attorneys general from California, New York, North Carolina, and 37 other states have sent a letter to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret Hamburg urging her agency “to take all available measures” to issue rules regulating the manufacturing, advertising, and marketing of electronic cigarettes (or “e-cigs”).
“With the protection of our States’ citizens again in mind, the undersigned Attorneys General write to highlight the need for immediate regulatory oversight of e-cigarettes, an increasingly widespread, addictive product,” wrote the attorneys general.
Big Tobacco companies have enthusiastically jumped on the e-cigarette bandwagon as traditional tobacco use rates in the U.S. continue to dwindle, and there is little doubt that products’ popularity has risen dramatically in recent years. According to a September survey by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one in ten high school students self-reported trying an e-cig last year. The attorneys general note in their letter that industry sales have doubled every year since 2008 and are expected to reach a peak of $1.7 billion in 2013.
While product use has steadily increased, the FDA has been slow to issue e-cigarette regulations. One anti-tobacco advocate told ThinkProgress that “it’s the wild, wild west” when it comes to current e-cigarette oversight. The attorneys general reflected that view in their letter, criticizing the tobacco industry for advertising the high-tech products using marketing that appeals to children. For instance, one company uses a cartoon monkey to sell its e-cigs — a tactic that is explicitly prohibited for all other tobacco products. There is also little oversight regarding the ingredients that can be placed into e-cigarettes.
There is no shortage of controversy regarding electronic cigarettes among the public health crowd. Some agree with e-cig manufacturers’ claims that the product is an effective smoking cessation tool and that many users are former smokers looking to kick the habit. A recent study published in the medical journal The Lancet seemed to support that claim. It found that traditional smokers who were given e-cigarettes as cessation product were 25 percent more likely to have curbed smoking entirely than those who used nicotine patches after three months.
Others — including the CDC and the American Lung Association — are more skeptical, raising concerns over the lack of data regarding what’s used in e-cigarettes.
“There has been very limited independent evidence done to find out what the ultimate consequences are either to the individual user, but also to the public health consequences,” Erika Sward, the American Lung Association’s Director of National Advocacy, explained to ThinkProgress in June. A 2009 FDA analysis of 18 electronic cigarettes found that half of the vapor samples “contained carcinogens, and that one contained diethylene glycol, a toxic chemical used in antifreeze.”
The FDA hopes to issue guidance on the manufacturing and marketing of electronic cigarettes by the end of October.