The e-cigarette debate is heating up following a recent proposal from the World Health Organization (WHO) to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors and ban the use of e-cigs in public places. The FDA has voiced concerns and many cities across the US have already enacted legislation in an attempt to control the rapidly growing use of e-cigarettes. The WHO proposal carries enough weight to bring about significant change, though not without controversy.
In addition to the ban on smoking, or vaping, indoors, the WHO is suggesting “regulation to ensure the products contain a standard dose of nicotine, as the drug content now varies widely among manufacturers. And to stop children from picking up the habit, it said that e-cigarette sales to minors should be banned and that fruity, candy-type flavorings should be prohibited.”
The World Health Organization, as reported in the New York Times, “expressed “grave concern” about the growing role of the powerful tobacco industry in the e-cigarette market, warning that the financially powerful companies could come to dominate the new business and use the current tolerance of the new products as a gateway to ensnaring a new generation of smokers at a time when the public health authorities seem to be winning the battle against tobacco.” (New York Times, 8/27/14)
The debate about e-cigarettes has become more serious as reports continue to focus on the increase in child users, though manufacturers maintain that e-cigs are mostly useful for those smokers who want to ‘kick the habit’. There may be some truth to that, but we just do not yet know how effective e-cigs will be in combating tobacco addiction or how harmful the actual vaping process is. David Abrams, executive director of the Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies in Washington reacted to the WHO’s proposal with disappointment. He calls for a more moderate approach to regulating e-cigarettes and cautions against equating them with their more pernicious predecessor, the tobacco cigarette. (New York Times, 8/27/14)
The WHO proposal will be presented at the United Nations Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, to be held in mid-October in Moscow. It will likely take the clout of an international health organization in determining the safety of e-cigs in order achieve any meaningful, reasonable regulation. For now, some are suggesting a ban on indoor vaping until we fully understand the long-term effects of inhaling the fumes, for bystanders as well as vapers. The e-cigarette vapor, its unique feature, contains nicotine and other products that are harmful.
The e-cigarette industry is now reportedly valued at $3 billion globally with 466 brands of e-cigs sold across the world. This rapid increase of popularity raises significant concerns in light of the CDC report released this week. “More than a quarter of a million youth who had never smoked a cigarette used electronic cigarettes in 2013, according to a CDC study published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research. This number reflects a three-fold increase, from about 79,000 in 2011, to more than 263,000 in 2013.” This report reinforces the importance of a thorough approach to the study and regulation of these smoking devices. While there is the potential for e-cigarettes to help smokers quit traditional tobacco products, the WHO notes there is no conclusive evidence supporting those claims. (New York Times, 8/27/14)
Big Tobacco, as we would expect, is heavily involved in e-cigarettes. “The World Health Organization report worries that Big Tobacco is becoming ‘increasingly aggressive’ in the battle for the fast-growing e-cigarette market.” It said that while the current crop of independent e-cigarette companies had “no interest in perpetuating tobacco use, the tobacco industry involved in the production and sale of electronic nicotine delivery systems certainly is.” (New York Times, 8/27/14) This is likely an understatement.
The WHO’s report should provide support for the FDA’s work on developing regulations for the United States. And, at the same time, it is likely to have incited enough concern among e-cigarette manufacturers to set the stage for a stronger battle. The war has gone on for years over traditional tobacco products. This conflict may be only slightly less lengthy and combative. But, no matter how one views it, another war with Big Tobacco is looming on the horizon.