Where Do E-Cigarettes Stand Against Normal Smoking Laws?

Rights, News

When e-cigarettes first came on the market, they were touted as a cigarette smoker’s dream: less expensive than real cigarettes, less deadly, less smelly, and legal to use in places real cigarettes are banned. But the devices, in which nicotine-infused liquid is heated to a vapor, are being treated more like regular cigarettes every day, at the local, state, and federal level.

Cities Enact E-Cig Bans; Federal Government to Start Regulating

In early March, Los Angeles banned e-cigs from public areas including restaurants and parks. Chicago’s ban went into effect last month, as did New York City’s, and even more cities are following suit. Currently, a total of thirteen states completely or partially restrict the use of e-cigs, or “vaping,” in public areas where regular cigarettes are banned.

While local and state governments have enacted legislation relatively quickly since the $2 billion e-cig industry began booming, the federal government has been slower to respond. In late 2011, a federal court ruled that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had the authority to regulate e-cigs as a tobacco product (or as a drug-delivery device if being sold as a smoking cessation device or for therapeutic reasons). Other than cracking down on some unsubstantiated marketing claims, the FDA has not done much to regulate e-cigs—until now.

Last month the agency proposed new restrictions on e-cigs that would give them authority to approve all new tobacco products and to regulate existing ones. If the restrictions are adopted, all manufacturers would be required to list ingredients, prevent sales to minors, and place health warning labels on their product, among other things.

Concerns Over Health, Advertising to Children

Many people are concerned that e-cig manufacturers have been targeting minors, and that the FDA’s proposed regulations don’t go far enough. Children under 18 may purchase e-cigs in places that have not specifically banned sale to minors (though many have, including Ohio and New York State). Minors can also easily buy e-cigs online, where proof of age is hard to verify. The FDA’s proposals do not include a ban of online sales, television ads (illegal for cigarettes since 1971), or e-cig flavors like chocolate and cherry that might entice minors. Critics are worried that e-cigs might be a “gateway drug” for minors, leading them to smoke real cigarettes.

Call for greater regulation is also partially driven by the emergence of data suggesting e-cigs, even if less hazardous to your health than regular cigarettes, aren’t entirely harmless and need government oversight. One study found that the vapor inhaled into the lungs was harmful. Another study found trace amounts of tin in the vapor of one brand and copper in another. And a study earlier this year found that people standing near e-cigarette users had trace amounts of the addictive chemical nicotine in their systems. The FDA also lists “adverse events” reported from e-cigarette usage including pneumonia, congestive heart failure, disorientation, seizure, and hypotension.

The problem is that e-cigs are still so new, there are no studies on the long-term effects on health. Still, even some who oppose e-cigs admit that they are better for you than traditional cigarettes.

The public has until July 9th to submit their comments on the FDA’s proposal.