Because so little is known regarding what is in electronic cigarettes, regulators are growing more and more concerned due to the increase in popularity of the product over the past several years. Preliminary tests carried out by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) show e-cigarettes, which are battery operated tubes that deliver a nicotine vapor instead of burned tobacco smoke, contain some of the dangerous carcinogens that traditional cigarettes do, but at lower levels. The samples also revealed quality-control issues with some of the products, which are marketed the exact same, having wildly variable amounts of nicotine and one of the products even having poison (diethylene glycol) in it; this indicates that regulators do not know enough about how the product is being produced. Due to the study’s findings, the FDA Commissioner has warned consumers to beware.
Since e-cigarettes, or "e-cigs", are being subject to FDA approval as a drug or medical device, they are illegal until they are cleared. Smoking Everywhere, one of the two major importers of e-cigarettes, has since sued the FDA, claiming it should not be regulated like a drug but as a tobacco product. While the company engages in this legal battle, however, its sales representatives at one point claimed the product had been approved and deemed safe by the FDA. An attorney for the company claims this misinformation has since been corrected.
Michael Siegel, a Boston University School of Public Health Professor, says the FDA’s newest consumer warning is misleading because the agency found very low levels of carcinogens in e-cigarettes. Siegel claims these levels were comparable to what is present in nicotine-replacement products, which are currently on the market. He also states the levels of carcinogens in the e-cigarettes are about 1,400 times lower than in Marlboros. The FDA deputy commissioner, however, says it is premature to claim e-cigarettes are safe until regulators know what is in them. If the product is meant to help some Americans stop smoking, it is the manufacturers obligation to present that data to the FDA.
Many anti-smoking advocates are putting pressure on the FDA to officially ban e-cigarettes from the U.S. They claim these and similar products should be taken off the market because the lack of testing to determine the hazardous ingredients in the product would lead to smokers becoming guinea pigs. The public health community is also split over the issue regarding whether to advocate smokers switch to a less harmful product even if they are not completely safe. Though the government has blocked the product from the border, it has not shut down domestic retailers. This means consumers can find the $40 to $100 e-cigarette starter kit in mall kiosks, travel centers and online. So far, the e-cigarettes have also been banned in Canada, Australia, Mexico and Israel.