Our view

Use balanced regulation for e-cigarettes

April 30, 2014 

  • In summary

    FDA needs to restrict use of e-cigarettes by minors but the devices can be usedful to those trying to quit smoking.

Considering the nation’s history of cigarette smoking and the belated intervention by the government to control it, taking early steps to regulate e-cigarettes makes sense. But the Food and Drug Administration shouldn’t ignore the possibility that these devices could provide a healthier alternative to smoking tobacco.

The FDA moved last week to regulate e-cigarettes. The proposed rule would limit the manufacture and sale of e-cigarettes and ban sales to minors.

Health-warning labels would be required on e-cigarette packaging. And companies would have to divulge the ingredients of their products.

But the new rule wouldn’t ban online sales or prevent manufacturers from advertising on TV and in print or from marketing e-cigarettes in kid-friendly candy and fruit flavors.

Critics have complained that the FDA did not go far enough in restricting the sale of e-cigarettes. They say makers of e-cigarettes are marketing their products directly to children with cotton candy and gummy bear flavors, and by giving away free samples at concerts and sporting events frequented by young people.

But others have applauded the FDA’s cautious approach. They claim that e-cigarettes can provide a cheaper alternative to normal cigarettes that also contains far fewer harmful ingredients than tobacco smoke. Smokers could use e-cigarettes to cut down or quit tobacco altogether.

For those who don’t know, e-cigarettes are battery-powered cylinders that use a heating element to create a flavored, nicotine-laced vapor that is designed to resemble smoke. Use of the devices is known as vaping.

The jury is still out on whether e-cigarettes pose their own unique health hazards. Research has yet to nail down all the chemicals found in the vapor.

Health experts also worry that instead of serving as an alternative to smoking, e-cigarettes will become a gateway to tobacco cigarettes for young people.

Even if young people don’t move on to traditional cigarettes, the idea of a new generation hooked on nicotine vapor is unnerving.

But we can’t discount the potential usefulness of vaping as a safer alternative to smoking, and one that poses little threat to others in the vicinity. In that respect, e-cigarettes are not much different from nicotine gum or patches.

It’s likely to be a delicate balancing act between offering a product to adults that is safer than smoking tobacco and preventing children from getting hooked on a product that could harm them. But trying to maintain that balance is better than over-regulating e-cigarettes or not regulating them at all.

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